We do not know what we are doing

My wife and twelve year old son have just returned from south Florida on this Labor Day weekend with a 2014 Winnebago Travato. It is parked in our driveway now.

We are gearing up for this Fall. Our project is to travel and home-school our son and also, as we learn things, to maybe even develop curricula for home schoolers. Roam Schooling. And not curricula just for travelling home schoolers but, like…located learning: interdisciplinary, connected, John Dewey-style geology, ecology, history, geography lessons, rooted in some place, like Missouri. Or Colorado. That’s the plan.

We do not know what we are doing. Valves, buttons, compartments, black water. But we will! What better way is there to learn something than to do it, try and organize your thoughts, write it all down, share it.

The Three Day Project Paradigm

Or: How to learn how to learn in five minutes

The way PyCon Canada lightning talk presenter Daniel Moniz (@ParagonRG) gives his presentation, “How to Learn Python in Five Minutes“, you could miss what a great system for learning to program is being outlined.

I stumbled on this video as I was looking around at online programming courses. The title, a bit of “trickery” that Moniz apologizes for, is click-bait for the casual browser. The title should instead be something like “How to learn how to learn in five minutes,” since it’s not about Python per se, and couldn’t cover too much in five minutes anyway, but instead uses the presentation to go over a system for learning that seems really useful.

It’s something Moniz calls the “Three Day Project Paradigm”. I can’t find anything (else) on the web about this. So maybe it’s his paradigm and this is its debut? Anyway, it’s imminently practical. The main thing about it is that when you’re done, you not only have learned in what seems to be an ordered and efficient way, but you’ve got this project, this thing, to show employers, tech talk attendees, your mom. You may use that thing to get a job, as he describes having done, or simply to acquire a new programming language or skill in a way that commits you to the learning.

I know that when I’ve interviewed at tech companies, I’ve sometimes had a project to show, and I can say the amount of gravity these projects have in the process is really useful. You built this product? Show us how it works. I mean, interviewers really want something to dig into, to poke at, a differentiator. I had a little document review tool I built as a Python web app (DiRT); a Kred social application for work; various text and XML processing utilities. When your projects are real and been made public—”shipped”—when they have little logos and cool names and nice-looking UIs, they say a lot about important skills like design, testing, “productization”, follow-through. They show you to be a shipper and not just a tinkerer, and that’s key.

This project paradigm has you working on a thing you really want to exist, that you may make a part of your resume but also use, that will be a part of your technical experience, your toolkit. Collaborative development tools like GitHub make this so easy technically. And of course working on such a project provides the focus and real problems and solutions that help you actually learn—in contrast to so many more passive or casual or disconnected learning environments.

Three Day Project Paradigm Outline

I copied the outline for the 3DPP from the video:


  • Need a project idea, e.g., web crawler

Day 1

  • Mess around, learn language

Day 2

  • Complete functionality
  • Refactor
  • Eliminate bugs (bug-free by EOD)

Day 3

  • Complete docs
  • Refactor
  • Push to Github or online repo
  • Etc!

Day 4

  • Hands off!
  • Ship

Three day boot camps in Wilmington

I was looking at training in Python, my go-to programming language, because of recent conversations we’ve been having about technology in the Cape Fear area, in which this observation has been made repeatedly: We have a paradoxical disconnect between 1) local employers who want to hire practical, modern technical skills (JavaScript, mobile, web, analytics) and 2) local skilled tech workers who cannot find these employers!

I could imagine a set of Raleigh Iron Yard-style boot camps based around the 3DPP filling this disconnect in these ways:

  • Students and would-be employees could help define the languages and technologies, such as JavaScript and mobile, they most want to acquire skills in
  • Employers could help define real projects based on their real needs–and see those projects worked at in a win-win learning/training/solving situation
  • 3DPPs could supplement tech learning and training at local colleges, taking up emerging skills needs in a more agile way than traditional curriculae tend to
  • 3DPPs could train existing employees in work environment to upgrade them in their current roles

Example 3 Day Project

As an example 1 of the qualities above, 3DPP facilitators might help the NHC medical center frame a set of needs around mobile apps: A mobile solution for NHRMC employees to schedule rooms for meetings and patient consultations. Students of the boot camp, having already expressed a keen desire to learn Angular JS and Swift, virtualization, would adopt three projects in paired programming teams, apps and components that could be white-labelled for NHRMC but could also be adapted for other more general uses, such as real estate offices, universities.

  • One team would build the server component in Swift, on Linux, in the cloud

  • Another team would build the mobile application itself using Swift + Angular
  • A third team would build an analytics package that would integrate and provide dashboards about capacity, utility of rooms, energy costs, etc.

The students would pay for this learning experience, the medical center might also pay, or subsidize; maybe it has its employees in this training/solving. The medical center would indicate its willingness to purchase or hire for solutions to its real problems. The students would be building a real thing—again for their resume at least, if not for profit and employment. The framework of the real-world problem and compelling technological solutions would make the learning efficient, modern, “sticky”.


  1. In this contrived example, the interfaces, communications and requirements of these applications would need to be worked out a bit more in advance, of course; hope this is still a useful illustration though of how stakeholders around this kind of learning could come to the table, particularly in regions like ours where there’s thought to be a lack of connection between skills and needs, firms and developers.

Earthy: Sweater-powered human space travel

A new more pragmatic generation of space exploration researchers has outfitted its small crew with a key new piece of technology: Icelandic sweaters. Four heavy, somewhat misshapen pullovers, differently-hued radial patterns across their chests, literally redolent of peat smoke and wool, of human sweat. The world’s television screens have fixed upon these lumpy traditional garments as totems of restored hope.

After nearly a decade this new mission, scheduled to execute moments from now, marks only the fourth trip into the reaches using a method known as leaping. Three prior deep space leaps have been tragedies, from which the crews have returned, because of the way that leaping must work, without any memories of the voyage. The data collected from devices about reaches of space previously unavailable to us is unimaginably rich, opening whole new fields of inquiry and research. But the leapers themselves have had nothing to tell us, nothing about what it’s like so far beyond the Earth and our solar system, what they’ve experienced. The world has wept at the grim, now-familiar images of the last three crews, emerging from the vessels in silver space suits, staring literally like idiots, unable to recall any details about their trip, or indeed anything from the lives they lead before they left for space. Some eventually regain their memories. Others, unfortunately, have come back lost to us utterly.

The Icelandic sweaters represent a very different approach to leaping. A return to earlier modes of travel, to a human-based program and a literal disenchantment with the garish silver metal rockets of the 1950s, the glass geomes and other basic shapes of the early 2020s. This time on our terms, the sweaters say: as humans, our outsized brains floating in liquid, our minds so prone to worry and to wander, our fragile skins.

Wool, it turns out, is very good at repelling solar radiation in space. No one knows why. The sheep in Iceland so close to what’s left of the intense ice sheets, the polar light of the North. Much more important, however, may be the actual feel of the sweaters, the deep odor of Icelandic wool, the talismanic wholesomeness they afford their wearers.

Wool sweaters are earthy. That’s the main thing. We believe that the astronauts now waiting to launch in thick traditional wool sweaters will retain more of themselves on this flight, and will share something real to us upon return.

This obsession with the future, we realize now, was about forgetting! Of course our astronauts would come back blanked. We would never conquer the reaches with fantasy. Silver shiny is not us. We’re wiser now. What had this abandonment of ourselves gotten us, this fetish of sleek and futuristic, the shiny Will Robinson fantasies? Making it there and back wasn’t a matter of faster vessels, more leap drive, or dilithium crystals. It was a matter of being able to maintain yourself, to keep your self organized. To feel and be present, no matter what.

To travel through distances any greater than to our own moon, you just need to leave the earth’s orbit with your space craft–almost any craft will do here–and then, working together, leap into the reaches with what’s more like a shared mental exercise than a spatial journey.

The astronauts stride into the small capsule. They know they are risking their lives, their memories, what makes them human. Researchers are already investigating an even stronger formula of Icelandic sweaters and Spanish rioja wine.