cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Lukas Vermeer

Few people can playful banter online as well as Dean Shareski, and I enjoy regular doses of Dean tweaking. Good gravy, he lives in a town named “Moose Jaw” that alone is material enough (and I have visited him there). He is terrified of Eastern Standard Time. He golfs. He tweets about his lack of pants and glorified naps and weird things his dog does and…

So much material.

Dean continually advocates and exemplifies the idea of leveraging the strength of his online network, to what I like to think is an exaggerated extreme that the role of many of his peers are to built things to benefit him.

Here’s how it plays out. IN his way, Dean put out there his gaps of knowledge

I was actually out on a bike ride, but taking a break. Time enough for a helpful suggestion?

which Dean bats back

More banter. I tweet about being busy bike riding, and try to offer a last explanation. The twang back

To which I try for the positive reinforcement (of course a “yes you can” is cliché)

And here we get to what I’ve been thinking about since then

The words “I can’t” get to me. On it’s own it is two, err, three words, and do constitute a complete sentence. Sometimes it might mean “I just need help figuring it out, I’ve tries this bit that happened.” Other times it is our frequent self-limiting behavior when we concluded our capabilities.

I’ve come across this often in my teaching of ds106. Often it is “I’m not creative.” “I can’t draw” (I am quoting myself there). Nearly all of my my UMW students when we start our unit on audio, blog about how much they are dreading it. There is just so much self limiting language in the words “I can’t”.

Dean is an experienced teacher. I would have guessed he never tolerated that attitude from students.


I am going to guess again that Dean is playing here. And this thing I am trying to word out is not about Dean at all. It’s about the way we approach the unknown, the new, the intimidating.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

So this all occurred while I am out mountain biking. I have had one of these machines for many years, and more of my use has been casual riding. But in the last few months, I have been trying to push my abilities to trail riding, and I am very much just learning the balance, the technique. It is an experience that completely throws in your face what I think I can’t do./

I can;t climb that steep hump. I can’t negotiate over those rocks. I can’t cut that hard turn. I look at a section ahead, and my inner voice is already in “Can’t land”. And that is largely true, as I fumble around, end up stopping or worse, sometimes over the bars.

But every now and then, as I do more riding, I find myself being able to navigate some bits that I had not done the previous time or something I did not thing I could climb. Every time I surpass my threshold of what I thought I could not do, I get a little rush.

Of course I cannot outsource my mountain biking to someone else or use a magic script. Maybe the metaphor fails (like most do).


If you use “I can’t” language without any “try” in it, you get a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perfectly correct. But every time you try in the face of your own “I Can’t”, you progress, maybe in so small increments that they barely register.

I am far from being an adept or confident mountain bike rider. But pushing agains my own limits is the reward, often small. But totally worth it. I am sure Dean can find parallels in his pursuit of golf. He never says “I can’t golf.”

Maybe this is patently obvious or pointless, because Dean and I always enjoy a little back and forth with a dash of trash talking. I only do this with people I respect and know can dish it back.

Maybe on one of his big tour circuits, Dean can get me in on some gig, and we can do a shtick where he declares something technical he says he can’t do, and I try to prove him wrong.

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. deviant art image by potterfer

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. deviant art image by potterfer

I bet he can’t do that ;-)

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I make good fodder for blog posts.

    1. I should have swapped “can’t” for “too lazy” or “it’s not important enough for me to spend the time.
    2. I really do think the whole photostream thing is a mystery and more complicated than it ought to be. Why do I always have duplicate photos?
    3. I’d love to co-present and include the banter
    4. Some days, you’d agree, “Dean can’t golf”
    5. Nice post and for the most part, I agree.

  2. Lovely! enjoyed reading this on my sunday morning by the fire after a long walk with Gifadog and my brother. I am reminded of my struggles learning to ride a bike as an adult. It was not until I learnt that each time I got on a bike I run movies in my head of all the places I would fall down, that I was able to let go of the ‘I can’t ride a bike’. I love riding now, but sometimes it is hard to bring to awareness the limiting beliefs that express themselves as ‘I can’t’. Sometimes, ‘I can’t’ just means I have other things in my life that are higher priority than learning this thing. For myself, I am off to google externally referenced files, hell I have never been able to fathom iPhoto and ditched it for manual storage in dropbox where i create my own folder a long time ago. But there is much I like about it… if I can point it to DB then Bob is your uncle as we say in England :-)

  3. There really are things I “can’t” do, but there are so many more that, as you say, with a motivated push I CAN do that, as Mariana says, it becomes a matter of prioritizing.

    I still think Dean has a good, basic question. Your 2009 post was mind boggling and proved the point that organizing photos is not for the faint of heart.

    I don’t need the editing power of Aperture. As I say when I’m tempted to go shopping instead of do laundry, “I already have plenty of clothes/software.” I need to use what I have better.

    I have iPhoto. I have external hard drives. I have Flickr. I have organized and labeled Facebook albums. I even have 500 px and ThisLife accounts, fer gawdsake, that just confuse the issue.

    Dean asked about Photostream…I have the impression that is something you don’t organize. It just flows pictures around to be fruitful and multiply…right?

    1. As usual I miss aimed the message. IN no way would I suggest that anyone use my photo organizing strategy as their own. What I did was consider what was important to me (being able to find photos from a large collection, and have it stored in a file structure that made sense to me), researched the approach of others, and adapted bits of others into my own. I did not expect one solution to fit off the shelf.

      I’ve not used iPhoto much since 2006 so my experience is dated, and I am not quite sure what a photostream was. In those days, iPhoto automatically arranged my imported photos into “rolls” organized by date, which was meaning less to me. I used to create my own rolls, or sets, or whatever they are called, and would move them into those that made sense to me.

      What I think it to have an organizational structure that is independent of software, photosharing service, that I have on my own storage. For me, this is via 5 large general categories that roughly correspond to Home, Travel, Work, etc, and in each I organize by year, and where appropriate, inside each year I might make a new subfolder for say a different travel trip.

      The thing I do in Aperture, and what I was trying to suggest to Dean in the first place, is that you can configure iPhoto so it stores your original “master” photos n a file structure you define (like I did above), and not just stuff them inside the software internal database. This also means you can make backups more easy, and do not end up with a giant internal database inside iPhoto.

      This is what is known as “referenced” structure, meaning the software looks for the master photos in an external reference storage area. iPhoto can do this, but it is not obvious inside the software. The power of Aperture for me, because I might take 70,000+ photos per year, is that you can manage these in multiple external hard drives.

      But Dean and others are correct, it comes down to what is worth your time to delve into- we make such choices all the time. For me, this was very important. For you, perhaps not.

      But coming up with an organizational scheme for your photos is not really complicated. It’s more a question of making it practice.

  4. I’ve had a few frustrating interactions recently with educators that happily champion constructivist learning in their classroom and yet find it easier to email me with a question that Google could answer for them in seconds. Especially from educators that are regularly on the web, experimenting, and working with technology. I suppose we all suffer from those moments where we want to get something done and we know someone who might know the exact answer to solve that need and hell, it’s much easier than actually learning the reason the problem exists and how to best fix it. We just want it fixed. But coming from someone more often on the other side of that relationship as an instructional technologist it’s just incredibly frustrating. I haven’t really blogged about it because I haven’t found a way to push back on people I admire constructively and have the tone remain positive.

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Tim. Countless times when I was working at Maricopa or NMC and I continually was answering tech questions by searching the answers on the web and then offering back an explanation.

      I felt often an inflated tech expertise reputation for what seemed like basic web skills.

      But I am no longer quick to assume laziness or a need to snark back a Let Me Google That For You link .

      One, it’s a sign of trust in you. Second, what seems like obvious for us may still be daunting for others. It’s like when I watch someone like Grant Potter play music as naturally as I might breathe.

      I try to reply with my sources as an indicator of the way I found the answer, maybe it can be a learning opportunity.

      I am sure this is no revelation. In many ways not much has changed.

      Heck it makes us indispensable ;-)

      1. Tim,
        I don’t want to live in a world without human teachers or helpers. I don’t really want to take a DS 106 Headless class without an Alan down in the boiler room kicking the pipes and making it all run.

        I am Faculty Technology Specialist, too, and I read documentation–turns out nobody else does that, so I get paid to hold hands and explain things. Well, the learning gets transmitted through the held hand because we monkeys are social animals.

        And while technology is a good thing, so is holding hands to help people change that CAN’T to CAN.

        1. I certainly get that sentiment. I think it’s important for everyone to remember that there’s two sides. Even I call on my colleagues for help. The difference is I want to learn so I don’t have to call on them again. More and more I see people uninterested in the nuts and bolts of the “how” and just wanting the answer. Searching, discovering, and learning is work, but it’s important work and while human connections are important too they can certainly be abused if one isn’t careful.

  5. This is an interesting thread!

    I guess took the intent of your post, Alan to be generalising about learning and not about the specific strategy for storing photos, may be I misunderstood. As regards the photo strategy, I am with you. I self-manage my directory and have all my apps pointing to Dropbox. iPhoto is not for me.

    As regards the larger issue of challenging ourselves to learn and supporting our students, whether online or in the classroom, to learn – it is a fine line.

    Psychology shows that too much challenge stops learning as does not enough challenge. As educators we need to make a judgement about so many things when we make a choice to ‘just do it’ or ‘show them how to do it’ or a combination of both.

    I am the ‘tech savvy educator’ in my world and I recognise Tim’s frustration at times. I also see what Sandy says, sometimes even if they/we can find out -we just want human support and hand holding. Google does not do that :-) really interesting issues for reflection.

    When all else fails and I am grumpy, I just send then the XCDC comic:

    and say ‘There. Now you know everything I know!’

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