Inspirational Posters for the Teacher in your Life

 

Teachers are awesome. Without them I might never have survived high school. I was too painfully awkward to have friends (something I have thankfully overcome later in life), so had it not been for a few good teachers who gave me a really good reason to be there — learning fascinating and exciting things — I don’t know what I would have done.

Brooklyn-based design studio Hyperakt teamed up with Studio360 to create a series of inspirational posters for teachers. The downloaded prints aim to “create a new visual vocabulary that reflects the multi-dimensional role of teachers.”

You can download them and learn more at InspireTeachers.org.

Related: What I Wanted to Hear from my Teachers on my First Day of School, by Alessandro d’Avenia.

Time Lapse: Around the world in 5 minutes

This is absolutely stunning. I highly recommend that you check this out right now. Watch it in full screen, with the sound on if you can.


This makes me remember how much I love traveling, and how little of it I have done recently. I really do need to make more time for exploring this big world that I sometimes almost forget even exists.

Announcing the SeedCon 2011 fast-pitch winners!

SeedCon 2011

On November 17th and 18th, before 250 spectators and a panel of judges comprised of some of the most innovative entrepreneurial minds in Chicago, eight idea-stage start-ups took the stage for a chance to win over $60,000 in start-up friendly services to kick-start their businesses.

They had been selected based on their business idea, economic viability and overall creativity. Now each had just 10 minutes to wow our judges — a 4-minute pitching session, plus 6 minutes of Q&A with our judges. Among them: Troy Henikoff of Excelerate Labs, Built in Chicago’s own Matt Moog, Desiree Vargas Wrigley of GiveForward, and investors from OCA Ventures, New World Ventures, Illinois Ventures, and JK&B Capital. In sum, an experienced and hard-to-please crowd when it comes to picking great start-ups.

Happily, all our entrepreneurs stepped up to the occasion and wowed is with their creativity, initiative and business savvy. So it’s our pleasure to finally announce the fast-pitch winners of SeedCon 2011.

 

First Place: Snuggle Cloud

SnuggleCloud is a personal space for long distance couples. It provides the best way to stay connected with your significant other by bringing all your communication to one place, tracking moods and calendars and providing fun activities.

Representing SnuggleCloud at SeedCon were Shivan Srivastava and Sunil Muralidhar, who charmed the audience and judges with their witty take on the the ups and downs of long-distance relationships. Turns out, the company’s founders have a combined 12 years of long-distance relationship experience!”If Facebook is a party with friends,” Shivam said of their company, “then SnuggleCloud is an intimate candlelit dinner.”

Their win at SeedCon comes on the heels of their recent success at Seattle Startup Weekend.

 

Second Place: TalkChalk

TalkChalk is where the classroom lives beyond the bell. It is a platform that enables all stakeholders of the education process the ability communicate safely and effectively through Facebook, both during/after school.

TalkChalk founder David Simnick, a teacher himself, delivered a dynamic and engaging presentation about the struggles of engaging students outside the classroom, and how Facebook — through the child-safe filter of TalkChalk — could provide just the right solution. He argued that most education start-ups fail by targeting administrators first, while TalkChalk would get traction by working backwards: reaching students where they already are (Facebook!) and getting the buy-in of parents, teachers, and finally administrators.

We wish them the best of luck with this socially impactful venture!

 

Runner Up: OkCopay

OkCopay is a medical comparison engine that removes the mystery of pricing for patients, while improving reimbursement rates for providers. OkCopay allows you to search for the procedure you need, compare local providers, and view their actual prices.

For most of the SeedCon audience, the intricacies of healthcare prices might sound like a drag, but founder J. Toure McCluskey quickly captured everyone’s attention by pointing out that the cash price for an abdominal MRI in Chicago can cost $2093 in one clinic, or just in $325 in an equivalently accredited clinic just two miles away.

OkCopay promises to be the Kayak.com of the healthcare world, and with thousands of clinics already in its network, we hope it will continue to gain traction.

 

Runner Up: Stork Stack

Stork Stack is a subscription-based star-tup focused on the baby/toddler market (newborn to 36 months). Each month, members receive a Stack on their doorstep that contains products (new toys, outfits, books), and free samples of perishable products (baby food, diaper cream). Since all products are sourced from small businesses, Stork Stack provides an easy way for members to discover new products and for small businesses to expand their reach.

Stork Stack’s founders Chris Nakutis and Liz Eavey even brought a sample Stack for the judges to check out, and we loved all the awesome kid products inside.

Stork Stack only recently launched and we hope its SeedCon prizes fill help them get their boxes of goodies into the hands of new moms soon!

 


About the SeedCon Fast-Pitch Competition

SeedCon is the annual entrepreneurship and venture capital conference at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It is entirely student-run, and open to anyone who is passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship. Through keynote speakers, panel sessions, a fast-pitch competition, and a networking reception, the conference provides fun and exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors, and those passionate about startups to network and build businesses together.

For more information, visit www.seedcon.com or follow @seedcon on Twitter for updates!

Rework & wabi-sabi entrepreneurship

 

I just finished reading Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals. It was a great read, full of nuggets of wisdom and insights that will give me plenty of blogging fodder over the next several months.

In it, the authors dispel such business myths as the idea that bigger is always better; they argue against meetings, business plans and “projections”; and they give a credible and engaging voice to lean start-ups and wabi-sabi entrepreneurs everywhere. They even mention wabi-sabi as a business and design principle in their section titled “Nobody likes plastic flowers.”

There is a beauty to imperfections. This is the essence of the Japanese principle of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi values character and uniqueness over a shiny facade. It teaches that cracks and scratches in things should be embraced. It’s also about simplicity. You strip things down and then use what you have. Leonard Koren, author of a book on wabi-sabi, gives this advice: Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered but don’t sterilize.

It’s a beautiful way to put it: Leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul.

I had heard Jason Fried speak last November at SeedCon, and I really enjoyed his perspective. In the loud fist-pumping world of start-ups where everyone is always looking for the next big idea, the next big investment, the next big exit, Jason’s calm manner was like a breath of fresh air, reminding us that bigger isn’t always better, and that sometimes it pays to grow slowly and sustainably.

Needless to say, I feel honored that he and his colleague would choose to give wabi-sabi entrepreneurship a shout-out, though I trust they didn’t hear about it from me. ;)

 

To path or not to path…

Path is the smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love. Or so its description on Apple’s app store says…

So why am I receiving invitations from people I hardly know to connect on Path? Clearly, if I accept to share my Path postings with them, I will have to edit them to make them suitable for that audience. At that point they’ll start looking like my Facebook posts, so why use Path at all? As Techcrunch noted recetly, Path only works if you reject those friend requests.

Problem, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings by declining their invitations. Forget the ones from randoms who haven’t understood the way the app is supposed to work. What about all those other people in that awkward friendship gray area? Those who might consider our friendship close enough for Path, but with whom I don’t really feel comfortable sharing everything I would with my truly close friends and family. What do I do about them?

Am I too concerned about hurting feelings to use Path?

An app should really not require so much thought. I think Path is going to have to change its usage model if it’s going to last.

An Italian’s guide to making pasta

It’s time to set the record straight. Below is the age-old, tried-and-true, Italian-grandmother-approved method to make really good pasta.

It is so easy to make that it is the go-to recipe for culinarily-challenged Italian dads who don’t want to see their kids go hungry when mom is not around to cook dinner. And it tastes delicious. I can guarantee that when made right, pasta is good enough to eat on its own. No sauce, no oil, no Parmesan. Just delicious plain pasta.

What You’ll Need

  • A big pot
  • Lots of water
  • 1 tbsp of salt for each cup of water
  • Pasta (the regular dried kind)
  • A strainer

Preparation

STEP 1: Fill your pot about half way with unsalted water and bring to a rolling boil.

How much water to use has been a matter of debate, but honestly, it’s not worth over-thinking. If your pasta is covered with about 2 inches of water, than you’re using enough. You can definitely use more, but it will just take longer to boil and require more salt, so why bother? Speaking of salt, make sure to measure your water as you pour it so you know how much salt to add later. This is very important.

STEP 2: Once the water is boiling, add 1 tbsp of salt for each cup of water.

This is where most people outside of Italy go wrong, and it’s always by under-salting their water. As a society, we are generally wary of salt, and rightly so. Sodium in excess is not good for you. I can see why adding 6 tbsp of salt to 4 servings of pasta might seem crazy, but the important thing to note is that most of the salt stays in the water. Only a small amount is actually absorbed into the pasta, but that amount is crucial to giving the pasta its delicious nutty flavor. Otherwise you end up having to do what many non-Italians do: compensating for their nasty flavorless pasta by overloading it with sauce. That is not the way to do it. Pasta is not simply a sauce vehicle. The sauce should enhance and complement the delicious flavor of the pasta itself. Trust me on this one. 1 tbsp of salt for each cup of water, regardless of how much pasta you are making, is just right.

*steps off soap box*

STEP 3: Add the pasta to the water, and follow the suggestions on the pasta box to determine cooking time.

Interestingly, while most countries (I’m looking at you, U.S. and U.K.) get a bad rep for overcooking their pasta until it becomes a sticky mushy mess, the instructions on their pasta boxes are always correct. All you have to do is follow them. If the box says 11 minutes, then cook the pasta for 11 minutes starting when you drop the pasta into the water. Not 8 minutes, not 15, not 22. Just 11. It’s quite simple.

STEP 4: Strain the pasta and serve immediately with whatever condiment suits your fancy.

If your pasta is cooked correctly , then just a bit of butter and freshly-ground black pepper are enough to create an absolutely delicious yet simple meal. The key thing to remember is that pasta must be served immediately. The longer pasta waits, the stickier it gets. Not only that, but reheating cold pasta — or even worse, keeping it on the stove so it stays warm while the sauce cooks — ends up overcooking it. So time your sauce preparation so that it is ready as soon as the pasta is done.

That’s it. Easy right? Just follow these directions and your pasta will always turn out as if it came straight from your imaginary Italian grandmother’s kitchen.

Dispelling the Myths

Finally, let me dispel some of myths that are likely to lead your pasta-making journey astray.

You only need a pinch of salt in the water.
We’ve already addressed this above. The right about of salt is not a pinch, it’s 1 tbsp of salt for each cup of water.

Adding oil to the pasta water prevents it from sticking.
This isn’t so much wrong as it is unnecessary. The sauce and condiments you add to your pasta after straining it are what keep it from sticking. Adding a bit oil to the pasta water makes no difference. Adding a lot makes it greasy and causes the sauce to slip off the pasta.

You should rinse the pasta after straining.
What? I don’t know who came up with this but there is no way this is a good idea. When pasta cooks it releases starch that gets dissolved in the pasta water. This starchy salty water is like a layer of tasty condiment on your pasta and it combines with whatever sauce you’re adding to create awesome pasta goodness. So why would you want to wash it off? Not to mention, if you rinse your pasta with cold water, you unnecessarily cool it down, when it’s must better served steamy hot. If you rinse it with hot water you prolong the cooking process, leading to mushy pasta. Bottom line, don’t rinse your pasta. Nobody in Italy does.

Pasta needs to be drowned in sauce.
This goes back to people not knowing how to cook pasta. If your pasta is under-salted, over-cooked and all slippery from oil and rinsing, it’s going to taste bad on its own, so you’ll want to cover it in sauce to mask it’s unpleasant flavor. When cooked wrong, pasta is at best a sauce vehicle, and at worst a sticky ball of bland. But cook it properly, and you will be surprised by how good it tastes even on its own. At that point, you’ll want that nutty pasta flavor to shine through, complementing the flavors of your sauce. This is why Italians typically use less sauce on their pasta, and not because they like sauce any less than other people.

So that’s it. Happy eating!

And once you’ve perfected your pasta cooking skills, try it with my fail-proof pesto.

Image credit: Hanataro.

Google+ Rant

Google+ is fine. No, actually, it’s pretty good. Its circle feature is a much niftier way than Facebook’s lists to organize your connections, it ties in nicely with all the other Google stuff we use (email and Picasa most crucially for me), and its webcam-enabled group hangout space sounds rather spiffy. But still I can’t get into it.

Why? Because nobody asked for it.

Good start-ups address a pain point. And I’m sorry but NOBODY was clamoring for another social network. So, at best, Google+ is a nice-to-have. And most nice-to-haves in the start-up world fail. If you’re going to be nice-to-have, you’d better be a ton of addictive fun to play with (see: Angry Birds), otherwise people just won’t have the time or brain-space for you. But Google is not a start-up, so Google+ didn’t need to reach exorbitant heights of awesomeness to worm its way into our lives. All it had to do was avoid the trenches of terrible inhabited by the likes of Buzz and Wave.

And that it did, so now we have to deal with it.

And yes, I can already hear you thinking “dude, if you hate it so much, then stop whining and don’t use it, a-hole.”

To which I respond, “I KNOW! You’re right! And really I don’t use Google+, but I keep feeling like I SHOULD.” 

This is because Google+ preys on people like me, people who use the web as part of their professional lives and who therefore need to sustain a consistent social media presence. It preys on entrepreneurs, marketers, techies, venture capitalists, and basically everyone in the start-up community. It preys on our Fear of Missing Out. And for that I hate it because people like me really don’t have the time for another social network.

So, something’s got to give.

Did you know that collectively we already spend over 53 billion minutes (833 million hours) each month on Facebook alone? That’s 5 hours per person per month, but for people in my demographic I’m pretty sure that number is way higher. We can’t afford to spend more time on social networks. And as far as I was concerned, Facebook and LinkedIn pretty much had my social and professional networking needs covered.* Right now all I do on Google+ is replicate things that I already do on the other two, and honestly I can’t afford the time suck.

So either Google+ dies, or it finds a way to differentiate itself so that we can perhaps move some of our LinkedIn and Facebook activity there without dramatically increasing the overall time investment we need to make on social media. I don’t see the former happening, so I look forward to the day when Google figures out the latter. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing a lot more ranting from me.

* Twitter is another story, so I’m leaving it out of this discussion.

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