DSISD Commons #1: On passwords, interaction badges, differentiated instruction, recess, checklist manifesto, agile manifesto, cultural agility


Use a password manager, and never reuse passwords.


Interaction badges

Chapter 11 of NeuroTribes, In Autistic Space mentions interaction badges (also called color communication badges). These are used at autistic conferences and are becoming popular at tech conferences and company meetups.


Differentiated Instruction

Articles on differentiated instruction with a focus on neurodiversity, assistive tech, and structural ideology.



Recess is necessary. Provide students with Space, Trust, Time, and Loose Parts.


Checklist Manifesto

Checklists manage anxiety and provide cognitive net during journeys of cognitive control. We use checklists at home in the Checklist Manifesto style.


Agile Manifesto and Cultural Agility

Agile teams, distributed collaboration, and the hacker ethos of flexible improvisation and rapid iteration are important cultural literacy for project-based learning.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.


DSISD Mentorship and the Future of Work




Contributor Covenants, Codes of Conduct

Update: An updated version of this is available on my main blog.

There are codes of conduct for contributing to the open source foundations of the internet. The Contributor Covenant is widely used and representative of an emerging consensus on codes of conduct for distributed collaboration. The covenant is compatible with structural ideologyrestorative practices, neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and real life.

Meritocracy also naively assumes a level playing field, in which everyone has access to the same resources, free time, and common life experiences to draw upon.

Source: Contributor Covenant: A Code of Conduct for Open Source Projects

In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to making participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, level of experience, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation.

Source: Contributor Covenant Code of Conduct version 1.4

We are committed to making participation in this project a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of level of experience, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, personal appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or nationality.

Source: Calypso’s Code of Conduct

2015 also saw the widespread adoption of codes of conduct in online spaces, in particular the communities around open source projects. The Contributor Covenant was adopted by several prominent open source projects, including Atom, AngularJS, Eclipse, and even Rails. According to Github, total adoption of the Contributor Covenant is nearing an astounding ten thousand open source projects.

Codes of conduct express our desire to make communities more inclusive and diverse, but they are just the first step toward this goal. The initial signal is sent; now we must focus on increasing the participation of marginalized people through direct outreach and support.

Source: The New Normal: Codes of Conduct in 2015 and Beyond

See also:

Promethean > Pastoralist

One way to understand the shift from credentialist to hacker modes of social organization, via young people acquiring technological leverage, is through the mythological tale of Prometheus stealing fire from the heavens for human use.

The legend of Prometheus has been used as a metaphor for technological progress at least since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus. Technologies capable of eating the world typically have a Promethean character: they emerge within a mature social order (a metaphoric “heaven” that is the preserve of older elites), but their true potential is unleashed by an emerging one (a metaphoric “earth” comprising creative marginal cultures, in particular youth cultures), which gains relative power as a result. Software as a Promethean technology emerged in the heart of the industrial social order, at companies such as AT&T, IBM and Xerox, universities such as MIT and Stanford, and government agencies such as DARPA and CERN. But its Promethean character was unleashed, starting with the early hacker movement, on the open Internet and through Silicon-Valley style startups.

As a result of a Promethean technology being unleashed, younger and older face a similar dilemma: should I abandon some of my investments in the industrial social order and join the dynamic new social order, or hold on to the status quo as long as possible?

Source: Breaking Smart: Getting Reoriented

A basic divide in the world of technology is between those who believe humans are capable of significant change, and those who believe they are not. Prometheanism is the philosophy of technology that follows from the idea that humans can, do and should change. Pastoralism, on the other hand is the philosophy that change is profane. The tension between these two philosophies leads to a technology diffusion process characterized by a colloquial phrase popular in the startup world: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

A thriving frontier of constant tinkering and diverse value systems must exist somewhere in the world.

The result is a virtuous cycle of increasing serendipity, driven by widespread lifestyle adaptation and cascades of self-improving innovation. Surplus and spillover creating more surplus and spillover. Brad deLong’s slouching towards utopia for consumers and Edmund Phelps’ mass flourishing for producers. And when the virtuous cycle is powered by a soft, world-eating technology, the steady, cumulative impact is immense.

Like purist software visions, pastoralist visions too are marked by an obsessive desire to permanently win a specific, zero-sum finite game rather than to keep playing the non-zero-sum infinite game.

When the allure of pastoralist visions is resisted, and the virtuous cycle is allowed to work, we get Promethean progress. This is unpredictable evolution in the direction of maximal societal impact, unencumbered by limiting deterministic visions. Just as the principle of rough consensus and running code creates great software, consumer surplus and spillover effects create great societies.  Just as pragmatic and purist development models lead to serendipity and zemblanity in engineering respectively, Promethean and pastoral models lead to serendipity and zemblanity at the level of entire societies.

Source: Breaking Smart: Prometheans and Pastoralists

At the center of any pastoral we find essentialized notions of what it means to be human, like Adam and Eve or William Whyte’s Organization Man, arranged in a particular social order (patriarchal in this case). From these archetypes we get to pure and virtuous idealized lifestyles. Lifestyles that deviate from these understandings seem corrupt and vice-driven. The belief that “people don’t change” is at once an approximation and a prescription: people should not change except to better conform to the ideal they are assumed to already approximate. The belief justifies building technology to serve the predictable and changeless ideal and labeling unexpected uses of technology degenerate.

We get attached to pastorals because they offer a present condition of certainty and stability and a utopian future promise of absolutely perfected certainty and stability. Arrival at the utopia seems like a well-deserved reward for hard-won Promethean victories. Pastoral utopias are where the victors of particular historical finite games hope to secure their gains and rest indefinitely on their laurels. The dark side, of course, is that pastorals also represent fantasies of absolute and eternal power over the fate of society: absolute utopias for believers that necessarily represent dystopias for disbelievers. Totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century, such as communism and fascism, are the product of pastoral mindsets in their most toxic forms. The Jeffersonian pastoral was a nightmare for black Americans.

When pastoral fantasies start to collapse under the weight of their own internal contradictions, long-repressed energies are unleashed. The result is a societal condition marked by widespread lifestyle experimentation based on previously repressed values. To those faced with a collapse of the World Fairs pastoral project today, this seems like an irreversible slide towards corruption and moral decay.

Source: Breaking Smart: The Allure of Pastoralism

First Day of School


I’m Chase Boren’s dad. Our family supports the district’s move to project-based learning, as we believe PBL informed by neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and the hacker ethos of flexible improvisation and rapid iteration is the future of education. I’m active in the #IamDSISD and #DSISDchat discussions, regularly chatting with DSISD educators. I discuss PBL and its intersections daily on Twitter. I hung out in #DSISDsummer over the break and read some great books. I’m currently reading Hacking Assessment.

We’re big fans of Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, and student-created context and will gladly contribute furniture, lumber, tools, know-how, and labor toward transforming classrooms.

We do not support Leader in Me and consider it harmful. Rented, proprietary culture is bad culture, and culture is critically important to the success of PBL. As such, we do not give permission to use our child in The Leader in Me videos or any other materials featuring TLM’s name, marketing, or marks.

We believe that communication is oxygen and support the use of open, unfettered technology in classrooms, front offices, back offices, and all district operations. Developing an environment of communication and collaboration in an open by default culture is necessary to preparing students for a software-eaten world.

We attempt to be a project-based learning home that embraces obsessions. Peep our tinkerings and ten aquariums at our project blog and check out our maker space.

I write often about education and its intersections with my world as an autistic hacker at the following sites.


Ryan Boren

What is code? Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.

What is Code? is great interactive longform offering an engaging look at the history of coding and software culture. It takes you from the hardware up to people and culture in an accessible way. For a couple hours of reading, you get a lot of software cultural literacy. See the trees, stacks, graphs, tables, and algorithms all around us. Learn about the frantic pace of learning and disruption in the software world and how small, self-organizing teams using agile methodology plan, build, and verify huge systems in small chunks.

The code behind the webpage is open source and available on GitHub. There’s an issue tracker where volunteer contributors report errors and help improve the code and the text.

Selected quotes

Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.

This is real. A Scrum Master in ninja socks has come into your office and said, “We’ve got to budget for apps.” Should it all go pear-shaped, his career will be just fine.

There are lots of other neighborhoods, too: There are people who write code for embedded computers smaller than your thumb. There are people who write the code that runs your TV. There are programmers for everything. They have different cultures, different tribal folklores, that they use to organize their working life. If you told me a systems administrator was taking a juggling class, that would make sense, and I’d expect a product manager to take a trapeze class. I’ve met information architects who list and rank their friendships in spreadsheets. Security research specialists love to party.

Every month it becomes easier to do things that have never been done before, to create new kinds of chaos and find new kinds of order. Even though my math skills will never catch up, I love the work. Every month, code changes the world in some interesting, wonderful, or disturbing way.

Continue reading “What is code? Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.”

Scratching itches: hacker ethos & project-based learning

In the 90s during the foundational days of open source, an influential document was The Cathedral & the Bazaar.


That wikipedia article distills the book down to a list of 19 lessons. I’ll distill that further to these 9 lessons from the hacker ethos that are kindred with project-based learning.

  • Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.
  • Plan to throw one version away; you will, anyhow.
  • If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you.
  • Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.
  • Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
  • If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.
  • The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.
  • Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.
  • To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.

“Scratching an itch” is widely used lingo in hacker cultures for pursuing and solving your own problems. A culture of scratching your own itches is a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. Hackers are itchy tool makers. We’re constantly making tools to make our own lives easier, to scratch our itches. We automate repetitive tasks because we’re lazy enough to spend lots of time making time-saving tools. An old saw in hacker cultures is The Three Virtues:


  • Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it.
  • Impatience: The anger you feel when the computer is being lazy. This makes you write programs that don’t just react to your needs, but actually anticipate them. Or at least pretend to.
  • Hubris: The quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won’t want to say bad things about.

Students have itches. Project-based learning informed by the hacker ethos is an outlet for scratching. A culture of flexible improvisation, rapid iteration, and sharing encourages and enables us to scratch itches for ourselves and others.

A great way to build software is to start out by solving your own problems.


People in the free software community often code to scratch an itch and release that code into the digital commons so that other people can modify and manipulate it. While more often than not this process goes nowhere, over time some projects capture the imagination of others and become part of the infrastructure of the world.


Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They’ve been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”


Everything in software is so new and so frequently being reinvented that almost nobody really knows what they are doing. It is amateurs who make all the progress.

When it comes to software development, if you profess expertise, if you pitch yourself as an authority, you’re either lying to us, or lying to yourself. In our heart of hearts, we know: the real progress is made by the amateurs. They’re so busy living software they don’t usually have time to pontificate at length about the breadth of their legendary expertise. If I’ve learned anything in my career, it is that approaching software development as an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic, is the one surest way to fail.

Experts are, if anything, more suspect than the amateurs, because they’re less honest.

I’ll never be one of the best. But what I lack in talent, I make up in intensity.

To me, writing without a strong voice, writing filled with second guessing and disclaimers, is tedious and difficult to slog through. I go out of my way to write in a strong voice because it’s more effective. But whenever I post in a strong voice, it is also an implied invitation to a discussion, a discussion where I often change my opinion and invariably learn a great deal about the topic at hand. I believe in the principle of strong opinions, weakly held.

So when you read one of my posts, please consider it a strong opinion weakly held, a mock fight between fellow amateurs of equal stature, held in an Octagon where everyone retains their sense of humor, has an open mind, and enjoys a spirited debate where we all learn something.


As leaders we should always question new ideas and ensure they’re supported by fact. However, when there is mounting evidence and experience that shows our ideas and beliefs are wrong, we should not resist change. This is why wise leaders keep their strong opinions, weakly held.

When dealing with the complex practices of strategy, leadership and innovation in an uncertain and changing environment wise leaders keep their strong opinions, weakly held.

Strong opinions are not fundamental truths. Rather opinions are a working hypothesis used to guide your thinking, decisions and actions.

Wise leaders emphasise experimentation over theory. They understand that experimentation is a requirement for agility.

The fastest way of moving into the future is through defining and validating a series of hypotheses. Formulate an hypothesis based on the best available information – adopt a strong opinion. Then act, seeking feedback, adjusting as you go – weakly held.


The point of forecasting is not to attempt illusory certainty, but to identify the full range of possible outcomes. Try as one might, when one looks into the future, there is no such thing as “complete” information, much less a “complete” forecast. As a consequence, I have found that the fastest way to an effective forecast is often through a sequence of lousy forecasts. Instead of withholding judgment until an exhaustive search for data is complete, I will force myself to make a tentative forecast based on the information available, and then systematically tear it apart, using the insights gained to guide my search for further indicators and information. Iterate the process a few times, and it is surprising how quickly one can get to a useful forecast.

Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the “strong opinion” part. Then –and this is the “weakly held” part– prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that pointing in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.