Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘serendipity

I had to venture into town late one evening and I decided to look for a place to have some supper. I found a place that was stocked like a library.

In between mouthfuls of dessert, I chanced upon Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan. His storytelling drew me in and I am looking forward to him fleshing out this quote:

It’s easy to lie with statistics, but it’s hard to tell the truth without them. — Andrejs Dunkels

I was not looking for this book. I do not think I need to read this book. But I want to because it seeks to correct misconceptions with good stories and examples.

I did not actively seek out the book. Serendipity lies in uncovering gems when I am not looking for them.

Serendipity is digging for worms, but finding gold instead.

In a few months time, I have the privilege of resurrecting a short course on inclusive education with ICT.

As I always have my radar on, my feeds produced two resources I might be able to use.

The first is a news article that might reinforce a more progressive view on special needs and inclusive education. But it is locked behind a paywall and all my learners might not have this newspaper subscription.

Video source

The second is a YouTube video that might not have an obvious link to my course. What does a 16-year-old environmental activist and Nobel prize nominee have to do with inclusive education?

After watching the video I found out that Greta Thunberg has Asperger Syndrome. Hers is an example of how everyday technology (e.g., social media) enables identity and passion.

The availability of the video over the news article also illustrates the reach and accessibility of some learning resources over others. Some providers shoot themselves in the foot and disable themselves.

Yesterday I started Niantic’s second Pokémon Go Community Day (PGCD) on a high, experienced a low, but ended on another high.

PGCD is a monthly event that encourages players to explore the outdoors to find special Pokémon and rewards. February’s Pokémon was Dratini that could “evolve” to Dragonites with the draco meteor charge move.

There were other bonuses: Every catch was rewarded with three times as much stardust, and if you struck the lottery, you might catch the shiny variant of Dratini.

In Singapore, the event was scheduled to start at 11am and end at 2pm yesterday. I made my way to a park and activated a Lucky Egg and Star Piece to boost the XP and stardust gains.

First of five shiny Dratini caught on Community Day (24 Feb 2018).

My day started with a high when my second catch — and first Dratini — was a shiny. Things were looking up, but things started going downhill from that point.

At first, I noticed that the multiplier effect of the star piece I activated was not working. Each first stage Pokémon normally nets 100 stardust once captured. This was boosted to 300 stardust for the event.

As star pieces have a 1.5 multiplier effect, each catch should have been worth 450 stardust. However, the amount of stardust remained at 300 even with the star piece.

I provided video evidence to Niantic that this was happening. BTW, star pieces are items that I had to purchase, and this game error meant that I was wasting my money and effort.

Soon other players and I noticed more trouble within an hour of play. The game lagged, we kept getting error messages, and we could not catch or manage our Pokémon. Eventually the game logged me out and I could not get back in despite trying several times.

Just as well. I had to stop for lunch.

After lunch, the performance of the game improved. Other players and I could log in and we could play normally. Niantic extended the event by another three hours to compensate.

I moved from the park to a nearby mall that had a row of Poké stops. The density of stops meant that Dratini sometimes spawned faster than I could catch them.

This increased my chances of catching a shiny Dratini so much so that I eventually caught a total of five. One of the five was a strong Dratini that I evolved to a Dragonite.

I thought that I had already hit mini lotteries.

Then about 15 minutes before the event was to end, I heard someone say that there was a perfect IV Dratini nearby. A small group of us rushed over to where it was.

Along the way, I did a quick search to confirm the rumour and I realised that I knew that area well. When the group peeled off in the wrong direction, I told them to follow me.

I found the perfect IV Dratini first and beckoned the group over. I had to do this as some from the group opted to follow someone else in the wrong direction.

We caught the perfect IV Dratini just five minutes before the event ended. I hope everyone there remembered to “evolve” their catches immediately to get a perfect IV Dragonite with the draco meteor charge move.

What was the serendipitous learning?

First, seeing for myself that the rumoured shiny Dratini was true by encountering it in the wild.

Second, I had to quickly create videos to send to Niantic to clearly describe a problem and provide indisputable evidence of a problem.

Three, bumping into other players open enough to share critical information, sharing new information on the run, and getting rewarded for cooperating.

The last was a good example of serendipitous cooperation. The group had information about the Dratini that I did not. I knew where exactly to go to catch it, but they did not. If we did not share what we knew, we would not have caught and evolved it on time.

Ah, serendipity.

One aspect of teaching is to communicate ideas. But simply sending a message does not guarantee that is it received as intended.

Video source

Video source

These two Bad Lip Reading videos on YouTube illustrate just that. There is the proper movie script and what the actors said in Star Wars. Then there is the interpretation of what they said based on lip reading.

Such remixes are hilarious because most people understand that the efforts are parodies. The original messages are twisted, but the new messages in the remix are clear.

This reminds me that what we share online can have unintended consequences. I do not dwell on the bad consequences because trolls will find a way to put negative spin on everything. The consequences I speak of include the unexpected reach and reuse or remixing to benefit someone else.

I consider this unintended benefit a form of serendipity. This type of serendipity can be planned and designed for. It starts with sharing openly and freely.

I spent my last day in London in the Old Truman Brewery area. I did not plan on being there.

I had visited Poppies for its fish and chips the evening before. On my way back, I spotted a billboard advertising the exhibition.

The next day I visited The Art of the Brick, took some photos, and enjoyed some street food.

It was a wonderful way to leave London thanks to serendipity.

Several weeks ago, I was asked to deliver a 15-minute keynote at an informal event. The event was so informal that an organizer forgot to ask me to speak.

I did not get to share some important ideas at that occasion even though I had put a lot of thought and effort into providing a thought-provoking session.

Rather than be disappointed, I wondered if I could apply my keynote strategy at another occasion.

resurrection by GoShiva, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  GoShiva 

It only took two weeks for serendipity to knock on my door. I was invited to speak at a more formal occasion and for a longer time. The topic was also open enough for me to test a new opening story and the strategy.

I was glad that I took the opportunity because it got an otherwise passive audience emotionally and cognitively invested in the experience.

I like reminding people that it is better to be prepared than to try to be ready with technology-mediated change.

It is nearly impossible to be ready because the technology evolves, the circumstances change, the strategy grows, or the content becomes irrelevant by the time people think they are ready.

While readiness is a function of skillset and knowledge, preparedness is more a function of mindset and attitude.

Yesterday, I wrote about the serendipity that presented itself when I was planning for a family vacation. That good fortune it sometimes balanced by some bad or arse luck.

The onward journey took us to Paris on transit. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) at about 7am and before any major human traffic. I was worried about the complex navigation from one terminal to another as a search at the CDG site presented three options. Fortunately, ours turned out to be the most straightforward.

We cleared immigration at CDG very quickly as we were only second in line. I was surprised that we did not have go through immigration again when we arrived at the lovely Copenhagen airport (CPH). I had brought my prior understanding of travel with me and forgot about benefits of travel within the European Union. Passports were processed at the arriving and departing ports of call.

This made our travel between Denmark and Sweden seamless in terms of travel documents. There was no need for them. However, we faced a different and unpredictable problem.

We had planned on travelling immediately from CPH to Sweden. On the day we arrived, there was a rail strike that affected our train journey across the Øresund Bridge.

Fortunately, the authorities arranged for coaches to bring people over the bridge both ways and people could continue on rail once on the other side. What should have been a less than 30-minute ride was prolonged by a bit.

We planned on using Malmö as our base in Sweden but we did not realize that the coaches brought us to south Malmö when we actually needed to be at the city centre. The cab ride from south to central Malmö cost more (280 SEK, Swedish crowns) than the ride across the bridge (189 SEK).

I learnt later that a two-stop train ride within Malmö would have cost a fraction of the cab ride. But that allowed me to chat with the cabbie about how to orientate myself and which mobile phone company offered the best deal. After that lesson, it was trains wherever we went.

Most train ticket machines had an option for English translation. But not all information was in English even after you selected that option. For example, payment instructions by credit card were not in English, but it was easy enough to guess.

Your credit card must also activated for use overseas and with a PIN. I think all banks in Singapore deactivate the magnetic stripe for security reasons and you should activate this feature for the duration of your trip. You might be able to sign for other purchases, but machines require PINs.

After a lovely three days in Sweden, we made our way back to Denmark. The rail strike was still on, but my single family ticket took us by rail, coach, and rail again to Copenhagen Central.

We stayed at a hotel that was a stone’s throw for the Central station. However, it was literally and figuratively on the wrong side of the tracks. The hotel was in a red light district, but it was our only option for proximity to sights and to keep costs low. We did that by choice.

However, short of an extensive online search, I had no way of predicting two events in Copenhagen. We did not choose to arrive the day before Constitution Day (very quiet as many shops were closed) and Distortion (an annual and very noisy music event that attracted about 300,000 people). Some of the locals choose to leave the city because of the noise and drunken behaviour it attracts.

Thankfully our windows kept much of the noise out, the authorities kept things in check, and cleaning tricks cleared rubbish well before we stepped out the next day.

We opted to travel to Billund, home of LEGO, as a treat for my son. There were several travel options from Copenhagen. The information I had to process and the decisions I had to make were enough to cause an ulcer.

When I took into consideration the pros and cons of each, as well as unforeseen road or rail repairs, I still wonder why this sort of thinking and decision-making is not taught earlier and more actively in schools. I probably do not use 99% of the Math I learnt in school. I had (and still have) to teach myself these problem-seeking and solving skills.

Serendipity might present wonderful options, but it is the arse luck that creates dissonance and the opportunities to learn. I do not think you can or should have one without the other.

I have reflected about serendipity several times, either about relying on it or even designing for it in life and in teaching.

I am currently on a family holiday in Sweden and Denmark thanks to serendipity.

Depending on where you go, the most expensive components of a trip tend to be airfare and accommodation. Prior to our trip, I researched the possibilities of trips to Dalat, Vietnam; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Perth and Adelaide, Australia; and a handful of other places.

In searching for airfares, I looked up Denmark partly on a whim and partly because my son is LEGO-mad. I chanced upon a killer airfare for my family with wonderful travel times (e.g., midnight departure, noon arrival).

The return ticket cost about S$900 per person on average (all taxes included). The price was comparable to a trip to Adelaide and way under the typical S$1400-1500 quotes I found elsewhere. It was even less than the “last minute” flight to the Philippines for my ICT mission. After reading the fine print, my wife and I jumped at the opportunity without even booking accommodations.

Shortly after booking the flight, I discovered that the international airport (CPH) in Copenhagen, Denmark, was separated from Sweden by the 16km Øresund Bridge. We could buy a family ticket on a high-speed train to south Sweden (Skåne) for just under S$40. We did just that and visited Malmö and Lund for three days before returning to Denmark.

The travel between countries was a mixed bag and I will write more about it in Part 2.

Serendipity is sometimes described as digging for worms but finding gold instead. As you read this, I am wriggling with the worms and enjoying the gold I have found in Scandinavia only because I took the chance when it presented itself.

I announced yesterday that I was leaving NIE. I would like to elaborate on my reasons and hint at what I am planning on doing next.

Like some of my colleagues, I have received job offers by headhunters over the last few years. I have been asked to set up or lead the equivalent of CeL both locally and overseas. I always said no because I felt that my mission in NIE was not complete. Individually, those pull factors were not strong enough to convince me to leave.

Over the last few years, I have also received numerous requests from schools, educational outfits, and training institutes to provide workshops, talks, and an assortment of consultations. Not only was there a greater need for my services “out there”, there was also a greater appreciation for them. Collectively, these pull factors became stronger over time.

When my schedule allowed, I took leave to provide free or paid services to these organizations. My approach was always to first take the time to listen to my clients and then to meet their needs instead of their wants.

This logical and human process of looking and listening before leaping was gratifying to me. I think that the people I worked with also appreciated the extra effort I took (and still take).

So the job offers and approaches for consultation came my way without active seeking on my part. Often I would be found quite quickly after this blog or my tweets appeared high up in Google search results. This was not due to dumb luck, but to years of my leaving digital footprints and valuable artefacts for people to find for free. I attribute this daily strategy as key to being found for ad hoc work.

But it might be serendipity by human design that has resulted in job and career offers. I can recall at least two major ones.

In my first year as Head of CeL, I was headhunted by an agency in New Zealand for a position in Australia. The headhunter had asked a faculty member from one of my alma maters in the USA for recommendations and I was top of the list.

The latest offer happened just last Friday. As the details are not yet cast in stone, I shall be a bit vague.

The connections were closer to home but the prospects more global. The offer was very exciting and I told the headhunter that the job description seemed to be written with me in mind. I am very open to this option as it will allow me to 1) follow my passions, 2) build on what I have started as a thought leader and strategic implementer, and 3) wield influence in a much wider circle.

Whether the offers were ad hoc or longer term and whether they were a result of having a digital presence or serendipity, there were clear human links. By this I mean being caring and connected enough so that the right opportunities come my way. If you look at your own work life and find joy in it, you will probably find this to be true too.

I took this panoramic photo of my wife and son on a long drive in Tasmania.

We made no plans to find the place nor did we know of it beforehand. We were out looking for other places to visit and had a very loose, constantly evolving agenda. We took a coastal route and almost drove past this photogenic site.

But it was worth the journey, the small risk, and the trouble. Just like learning serendipitously.

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