How to be a Superhero (In Real Life)

•October 4, 2007 • 1 Comment

Alright, so on Sunday a few of us are going to officially introduce America to Parkour. The New Yorker is going to have a weekend-long festival throughout New York City and one of the things that they’re showcasing is the “new” discipline of Parkour.

So you’re probably thinking, “what the eff is that?” Well, it’s easier to show you than to tell you. You’ve probably seen it before but didn’t know what it is so if you’ve ever seen Casino Royale or the Bourne Identity movies you’ve seen it in action. If not, here’s a scene from Casino Royale with our boy Sebastien playing the guy that James Bond is trying to catch:

Sebastien did all the stunts himself.


And here’s my favorite vid, from a fellow traceur in Russia:


So now that you’ve seen parkour in action, what is it? Well, basically it’s the art of movement – moving as fast as you can and overcoming obstacles as you come to them without letting them slow you down. It’s about training your body to react instinctively so that you can get past anything at full speed – over, under, through, or around – but without letting the obstacle block your path.

We all do a little of it as kids in the playgrounds and way back when humans had to hunt their own food we all did it to either catch our prey or to avoid being eaten ourselves. It’s a physical discipline that trains your entire body but also your mind, because once your body is able to do these things, there’s still the challenge of overcoming your fear and learning how to focus on getting past the obstacles without freezing up. Adrenaline evokes the fight or flight response in human beings and for the centuries martial arts have trained us for the fight. Parkour trains us for the flight.

Guys who practice Parkour are called “traceurs” and the ladies are “traceuses.” (The sport was invented in France, but more on that later.) Most of us come to Parkour with backgrounds in total body disciplines, like dance, martial arts, or gymnastics. For me, it was the freedom of unrestricted movement. I’ve been training in martial arts all of my life for it, and Parkour takes all that training and lets you experience the freedom at a level you’ve only dreamed of. The wind blowing through your hair as you vault a fence and take a few steps then jump from wall to wall to scale a wall and drop down the other side… There’s nothing quite like it. Like my friend Maggie said the other day, “It’s all about defying gravity.”

So back to France. About fifteen to twenty years ago, a group of guys grew up together in the town of Lisses and they’d practice jumping and running. One of these boys was Sebastien Foucan and another was his friend, David Belle. Belle’s dad was in the French military and part of his training involved movement training, navigating obstacle courses, etc. He taught his son what he’d learned and David incorporated that with the martial arts and gymnastics that we was studying and soon Parkour was born.


Here’s a few clips of David doing his thing:


David is going to be coming to New York for the festival this weekend and I’ll be training with him and a bunch of other traceurs Saturday to set up a demonstration on Sunday at 1 PM. Together we will introduce the U.S. to Parkour. The exhibition is FREE and will be held at the Javitz Plaza.

Here is the information:

1 p.m. Javits Plaza (Free)
Eleventh Avenue Between 35th & 36th Streets
(In the event of rain, call 212.286.6998 for a status update.)

Now, I’m in the middle of writing an article explaining Parkour and its roots for Forum, the magazine that I used to work at so I’ll post that on here and on my main blog when it’s done, but I think the following needs to be said so people don’t get hurt.

1)Parkour is a discipline, not an extreme sport. It is NOT competitive. We don’t race each other from point A to point B because that’s the FASTEST WAY TO GET SERIOUSLY INJURED. NONE of us wants to get hurt because we all have jobs or go to school or have other things to do other than sitting around in a hospital. Also, getting injured means that you can’t train and for those of us who love what we do, that would be terrible and so safety is ALWAYS a primary concern.


2)We aren’t a bunch of kids that one day decided to jump off a roof for fun. We’ve all trained long and hard at things like landing correctly, including foot placement so we don’t break an ankle, arm or leg, and breakfalls like forward, back, and side rolls to lessen the impact we take from falling.


3)This isn’t a pissing contest. It’s not a discipline that young kids train in, most traceurs are in their early to mid twenties and have been doing sports all of their lives. We don’t “dare” each other to try to jump crazy gaps. We all started with the basics and as our skills improve, so do the things we’re able to do and we continue to grow from there. Don’t go out to bet your friend he can’t jump off the roof because he will and he’ll get seriously hurt or die and you’re both stupid for doing what you did.

Ok, I had to get that out of the way because undoubtedly some idiot is going to start jumping off of crap and break something and claim that he’s doing Parkour and he’s not.

So, I invite EVERYONE who can or wants to to come out to NYC with us on Sunday to watch. We all meet up to train and jam on a regular basis so if you’re interested in learning how to do it, you’ll meet all of us and we’ll be able to get you started. It’s FREE and it’ll be a lot of fun so definitely come out.

The New Yorker will be taking pictures and there will be a ton of reporters and press agents there for magazines, newspapers, and tv shows so chances are your face will end up somewhere. Haha So for all the girls that come out to shoots or events with me and complain that they looked “like shit” this is fair warning. Haha It’s a public event, there will be people there taking pictures.

That’s it all. I’m gonna head back out and finish my workout for today. I’m getting ready for the weekend. Hope to see you guys there!!!




Life on Demand

•October 2, 2007 • Leave a Comment

It started the way most good things do, with something simple.  A few years ago cable stations started offering movies on demand.  You paid for it and it was immediately streamed to your television set at any time you wanted.  It didn’t seem like much at the time, but now it’s clear that this was the start of something beautiful.

We’ve been claiming for years that we live in the “Digital Age” but it hasn’t been until recently that this statement has proven true.  Right now, all around the world, books are being scanned page by page in order to make the information found therein easier to categorize, locate, and share.  Family vacation pictures and great works of art can also be found facedown on scanners as private citizens and world-renown art galleries work to preserve the things that are important to them.

The reasoning behind it is simple – digital content can be replicated almost instantaneously and usually at no cost at all.  This means that all of our content can be more easily shared with friends and family, even if those friends and family members live across the globe.  Instead of simply showing your mother a picture of her new grandson, you can send email her a copy so she has her own to look at anytime she wants.

It is because of this trend towards instant gratification that the on-demand services have taken off.  If I’m walking across New York City at three AM and decide that I want to hear “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, I can tap a few keys on my cell phone and have that song streamed directly to my phone so I can feel tough as I cross that next dark corner.  If I’m away on business and using someone else’s computer, I want to be able to access familiar software to do my work.  Now I can access full-featured word processors and spreadsheet software online anywhere I go.  Not only can I use this software for free, it remembers my preferences and settings, streamlining the creative process.

And while these things are available now, there are two new on-demand services that will change their respective markets forever. 

The first of these is the DVD on-demand service.  We’ve all been in the mood to watch a particular movie and we’ve driven down to Blockbuster or our favorite mom-and-pop video store and been disappointed to find that they didn’t have the movie in stock.  The solution comes in the form of kiosks placed throughout town where you can go, select the movie you want from a catalog that could potentially contain every movie ever made, and pay to have the kiosk burn the movie onto a blank DVD for you.  Then you can drive home happy because you haven’t wasted a trip.

Because the entire video store is, in essence, in the kiosk, costs for these DVDs can be kept low.  You don’t need fancy packaging, the company doesn’t have a lease to pay, and the fact that the DVDs are made only when they’re needed keeps the overhead down on having to keep their store stocked.  The convenience of being able to pick up the movie whenever you want also beats out the currently popular video-by-mail model because there’s no waiting.

The only thing limiting the library size of these kiosks is the amount of data storage in each.  The more drive space, the more movies that can be kept available for quick burning and with a high speed internet network connection, additional movies can be downloaded to the kiosk when a less popular choice is made.  Eventually the technology will be available at home, where you can stream an encrypted stream to your home computer and pop a DVD into your burner and have your very own copy of whatever movie you chose after paying online.

The second technology, print-on-demand, is one that hasn’t yet made any moves towards becoming mainstream, but which I feel is just around the corner.  The advantages here are clear.  Again, you can have any title ever printed, or at least those that have been digitized, and new titles are digitized immediately upon being released. Titles that are in the public domain, such as works by Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain, can be printed at-cost or at a very small profit, making them affordable by anyone.  And because publishing will happen right at the point of sale, anyone at all will be able to submit their work to join the massive catalog of works to be printed, opening up the dream of writing the great American novel to anyone at all.

I predict we’ll see the DVD-on-demand kiosks within the next year and they’ll become more and more popular as the decade closes.  The print-on-demand model will take some time, but as book retailers see the advantage in having every title available for their customers, they’ll begin installing them in their stores.  The bookstore will always be a place to lounge on comfy seats and read your favorite book, but very soon you’ll be holding a custom copy fresh from the oven.

Paradigm Shift: Education

•September 28, 2007 • 3 Comments

By: Walter F. Rodriguez

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

– Abraham Lincoln

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

One thing Dr. Richard A. Muller’s students consistently say about him is that he makes it easy to learn Physics. It’s why I decided to take his class. Dr. Muller teaches Physics 10, which he calls “Physics for Future Presidents” in his classes at the University of California at Berkeley. He’s a winner of the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Grant,” the Alan T. Waterman Award “for highly original and innovative research,” and a citation by Newsweek as one of the 25 most important innovators in the United States. Most importantly though, he’s a great teacher.

William Arthur Ward once said, “the mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” Having a truly inspiring teacher creates a love for the material and for learning in the student. Extraordinary individuals produce extraordinary results, but they are few and far between. Unfortunately, there’s only one Dr. Muller.

It’s why I’m sitting here, pen scratching notes into my notebook, as Dr. Muller explains subjects as diverse as the economics of oil, the formation of hurricanes, and the promise of solar power. As he goes over the syllabus for the class I get up to let the dog out and head over to the cupboard to grab some water before we get into the meat and potatoes of today’s class. I don’t want to miss anything important but I know that if I do it’s ok. I can always rewind.
I found Dr. Muller’s class online at the U.C Berkley webcast site. Currently, U.C. Berkley offers forty-six of its classes online as webcasts and/or podcasts. These are all completely free of charge.

Stunning, isn’t it? A school with a reputation like that of the University of California at Berkley usually makes a hefty profit by charging to allow you access to the incredible collection of thinkers, teachers, and innovators that they’ve got on staff. That’s what you pay the big bucks for, to learn from the best, right? Well, the best educations in the world are now being made available to everyone absolutely free.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), widely regarded as the top science and technology university on the planet, charges an average of $35,000 a year for tuition. Meanwhile, all of it’s 1,700 classes are available online at no cost. That’s right. Everything: the syllabus, the exams, the assignments and solutions, and the notes. The only thing they don’t give you for free are the textbooks. But you can go over to Wikibooks or Textbook Revolution and you might be able to download those for free too, if they’re part of the offerings.

What brought about this incredible change? The big name schools have realized that unless you get a taste of how amazing their staff really is, you’ll never know what you’re missing. You still have to pay to get a degree from them, but that treasure trove of knowledge they once hoarded is now a shared communal resource.

American government has realized that all those other countries that we never really paid attention to before have suddenly sprouted strong economies and their educational systems are harnessing available technologies faster than we ever have. We’re falling behind globally in many fields, and education is the most important of these.
In order to understand the cause of the educational crisis we’re experiencing, we need to understand where our current system of education came from, the environment that produced it, and what it was created to do.

A Brief History of Education

Nothing occurs in a vacuum and the birth of modern education is no different. The creation of our modern educational system begins with the advent of one of the most significant global events in modern history, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. James Watt’s invention of the steam engine in the late 1700’s lead to huge factories being built and these factories were staffed by anyone able to work. Men, women, and children all labored under the same conditions and worked the same long hours together. There was work to be had and families to feed and the factory owners didn’t care who did the work as long as it got done.

Factory work was dangerous, especially with those early steam-powered machines. Accidents were common and even the children lucky enough to avoid a work-related injury had to deal with the terrible working conditions of the time. A few people were taking note of what was happening to the children and began to raise concerns about it publically. One of these was Charles Dickens, whose novels were meant to make people aware of the conditions facing children in England at the time.

Despite the efforts of these reformers, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that the child labor movement made any serious headway. As more and more people began to support the idea of child labor laws, they received help from an unlikely group of allies – the children’s employers. Machines had advanced and less and less people were needed to run them. Factory owners realized that the new, improved machines could do the work that the children were doing far more effectively and cheaper. The movement continued to gain steam until in 1938 a law was passed in the United States forbidding children under sixteen to hold a job.

A problem still remained, however – what to do with the scores of children who now found themselves with days full of nothing at all to do? Crime rates began to rise as bored kids found new ways of keeping themselves busy and the children’s parents still had jobs to go to and couldn’t help to keep them under control. The answer was compulsory public education.

The goal of universal education was simple – training as many children as possible to one day take a job in the factories that their parents worked in. In those days the career path of most people was the same. You found a job at the bottom rung of a company and you worked until you no longer could. A lucky few were promoted to supervisors, but even those positions required very little general knowledge.

What the World Needs Now

As wonderful a step forward as public education was, it hasn’t kept up with all of the changes in the world around it. We still have the same basic emphasis in our schools – training one child to perform one job. In our present-day reality those simple jobs don’t exist. As new markets and technologies emerge, new jobs are created and people are needed to fill them. Some of the job skills that are deemed vital today were unimportant five years ago and every day more are added to the list. People must adapt to new types of challenges every day and be able to fill whatever positions are open in the companies of today.

Yet we continue to teach in the same way we have for decades. Even with the integration of things like Powerpoint presentations and computers into our schools, most classroom learning is still accomplished via rote memorization and note-taking. Very little teaching of that type occurs in real-world work today, where an employee is given a project and told to accomplish it and they are expected to teach themselves whatever skills are necessary for the project’s completion. In the workplace of today, employees are educated by actually facing a problem and developing the skills and strategies to overcome it, in much the same way that we taught ourselves how to speak and walk as infants.

Because of the failure of education to adapt to the changing needs of the world around it, we’re being forced to cope with the problems the old system has caused. Our system of education is still set up the way it was back in the Industrial Revolution, attempting to educate the average student at a rate that frustrates the exceptionally gifted and those that need more reinforcement in order to succeed. Students in low-income areas attend schools that can’t provide the same resources to them that their counterparts in higher-income areas receive. Thousands of students graduate college every year with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay and find that they are competing with ever-increasing numbers of other graduates for the same jobs and are consequently having to take whatever job they can get to try to pay off their educational loans. (This creates a type of educational inflation. Because so many people are obtaining bachelor’s degrees, positions now require master’s degrees, or P.H.D.s. Whereas, in the past, obtaining your bachelor’s set you apart, now it simply shows that you’ve done the bare-minimum.)

But There’s Hope

The answers are coming, not from our traditional educational systems, but from outside sources. People are stepping in to help – people like Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems, who one day realized that there had to be a better way to teach his son about a dynamic force like electricity than by looking at static images in a book. He founded Curriki, a global community of educators, professionals, and volunteers of all types that all come together, sharing their experience and time, trading ideas, expertise, and advice to create challenging curricula for students and then delivering the tools and resources to fulfill those goals.

The gifted students who are bored with the coursework assigned to them in class can now explore advanced applications of the basics their class is learning by taking online college courses or watching talks given by individuals at the cutting edge of their respective fields, like speakers at the T.E.D. conferences. Conversely, students who require a slower pace and more reinforcement in order to learn the basics can now explore multiple ways of learning the material and they may find that one or another method or teacher is better able to shed light on principles they were having trouble grasping.

Companies like Wikipedia and OpenOffice are making information and programs available to students who can’t afford to buy an up-to-date encyclopedia or the latest word processing or spreadsheet software. Instant messaging programs like Yahoo and MSN Messenger provide not just free text-chat capabilities, but also free voice chats and whiteboard integration in order to better illustrate the points being discussed. With this technology, students can help each other with their homework or ask volunteer homework helpers across the state or country to explain it to them. Online interactive resources, like those found at Curriki, help those same students by showing them visually how plate tectonics cause earthquakes or how exactly to balance an equation. In this way, everyone can enjoy the same resources that the more financially-privileged school districts do.

The benefits don’t end at a high school level, however. For graduates eager to set themselves apart, there are thousands of science, business, and arts projects that are looking for volunteers to help them accomplish their goals. In return for their time, students receive experience in solving real-world problems and receive training and mentorship from some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Those needing to stand out from the pack can teach themselves a new language by downloading full audio courses for free from iTunes and studying grammar online at dozens of free websites. In order to practice their skills in the real world, they can use a social networking site like Ning to make friends with graduates or college students in other countries that will help them practice their new languages via messages and free international Skype calls.
Becoming multi-lingual is one way to make you more attractive to a prospective employer, another is having a more diverse education than today’s ultra-specific university programs offer. More and more, companies are looking for employees that can bring expertise in several complimentary fields to the table, who can see their problems with fresh eyes. Diversifying your education provides that. And it couldn’t hurt your chances that you’ve taken a few classes from top educators at Johns Hopkins or MIT, could it?

The path of self-education isn’t lonely. Social interaction and networking are vital in most fields and important parts of anyone’s education. It is easy to find groups of people who share your interests and whom who you can learn from. Social networking sites, discussion boards, and newsgroups are great ways to discuss new developments, meet others in your field, and ask for help. Websites like MeetUp get large groups of professionals and amateurs together to offer support and guidance and stimulate creativity. Writers can meet up with fellow writers to share ideas and ask for help with specific weaknesses in their work and runners can get together with fellow athletes for games or workouts.

Artists, photographers, and designers looking for inspiration and constructive criticism of their work can publish galleries of their work on Flickr and DeviantArt and listen to the critiques and encouragement of fellow artists and art professionals. Many of today’s top advertising companies have hired on artists to work for them after seeing their online portfolios.

Blogs are letting people present their thoughts and musings about various topics online and the discussions taking place on some of these are incredibly stimulating and important. The world’s policy-makers, CEOs, artists, and leaders are already sharing their thoughts with us. Imagine what could happen by listening to them, learning from them, and beginning a dialogue with your own suggestions and solutions. It is the dawn of symbiotic learning.

Our educational system has long been criticized for its chronic inability to adapt to the world around it. It is sad that it has taken major change in other fields, such as politics or technology, to cause it to re-evaluate itself and recognize the need for change. The past two decades have proven again and again that more efficient and engaging ways of teaching exist and that they are inexpensive and easily accessible to the public.

It Has Begun

Education is changing at its core. A paradigm shift has begun, as more and more tools are delivered to students empowering them to take control of their own educations. They can dig deeper into the areas that interest them and work on their weaknesses. They can find teachers, professors, and resources that suit their learning style, making more efficient use of their time, and inspiring them to pursue their own educations long after traditional schooling has come and gone.

The keys to learning are no longer found in where you were born or how much money your parents make – now, more than ever, knowledge truly is power. Knowing where and how to find these resources gives us the power to tap into them and benefit from them. Soon the quality of the education each of us receives will be completely up to the student.

Alan Cohen once said, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” This is the time for change.

Here is a list I’ve compiled for those interested in the resources I’ve talked about in my article:

Free Educational Internet Resources List

Free Educational Resources on the ‘Net – 2007

•September 28, 2007 • 3 Comments

List compiled and maintained by: Walter F. Rodriguez.

To add your favorite (free) resource, please email me at: (Replace the word “at” with the symbol. Used to prevent spamming.)



OpenOffice – Microsoft Office alternative –

GIMP – Powerful image editor, comparable to Photoshop –

gCalc – Advanced graphing calculator –

OpenSource Windows –

The OpenCD

Software for Starving Students –


College Courses

MIT – 1700 Available courses

MIT Courses with Video –

UC Berkeley (“Browse by year created” tool on the right) –

UC Berkeley – Events and speakers –

Carnegie-Mellon Open Learning Initiative


Notre Dame Open Courseware


Johns Hopkins


Utah State Open Courseware


Video Resources, Documentaries, and Lectures

T.E.D. Talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design)

National Geographic Channel –

National Geographic Video –

Documentary Films –

PBS Videos Online –

Green Energy TV –

About’s Video Archive –

Important Speakers at MIT –

How Stuff Works –

Google Education –

Google Lectures –


Educational Media Resources (Books, audio, etc.)

Apple’s Ipod Univeristy

Bartleby –

Free Online Textbooks

Project Gutenberg


Princeton’s UChannel


Learn OutLoud

Mixed Media




Google Scholar –

U.C. Berkely’s LabNotes


Microsoft LiveSearch Academic –

Directory of Open Access Journals –



BBC Languages –

Google Language Tools –

iTunes – Download iTunes and look under “podcasts” and then “Language Courses”. Most titles are free. –

Babel Fish – Free translation –

Learn Chinese –

Foreign Language Courses –

International Television –


Web 2.0 Tools


Thinkature Shared virtual workspace –

Google Docs and Spreadsheets –

Ning – Social Community Creator –

Tapped In – A free virtual world in which to hold meetings or classes –

Forbes List of Best Blogs –

EduBlogs – Educational blogs –



Google –

Wikipedia – Online, perpetually updating encyclopedia –

Wikipedia Reference Desk –

Infinite Thinking Machine –

Google For Educators –



Internet Public Library –

Internet FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions on a variety of subjects-

BCC Learning –

Open Directory Project –

Librarians Internet Index –

Internet Archive –

Geogebra – Online Visual Math Tutorials –

WebDesign Tutorials –

Mayo Clinic – Health reference –


•September 28, 2007 • Leave a Comment

There’s nothing like a blank notebook – all potential and adventure just waiting to happen. There’s something holy about an untouched canvas. The beauty lies in the fact that there is undiscovered art nesting there in the nothingness. All we have to do is coax it out. And so we begin…

I decided to call this particular notebook of mine “Pieces” because in every human interaction, we leave behind a part of ourselves. Like a ghostly image captured on a roll of film, the memory of every word, every look, every moment spent with someone remains long after the event has passed. And so I will leave in this notebook pieces of myself, in the hopes that they may do some good. After all, what else have we to give but ourselves and our love?

And yes, I’m calling this a notebook and not a blog because I am a romantic and, like most romantics, I find it hard to leave behind the idea of a beautiful thing. I am not putting pen to paper, not hearing the soft scratch as the two meet and imprint my thoughts on the page in ink, yet the process is the same. Now it is keys that I am tap-tap-tapping as the dark of night swallows the world around me. I’m leaning back in my chair and staring at the bright light of the screen in front of me but a part of me is hunched over a desk or perhaps laying in bed, a small leather-bound notebook open in front of me, and somewhere in that place the scratching of the pen drowns out all other sound.

I’m not two dimensional, as anyone who begins to read this record will see. I don’t believe in labels – doctor, policeman, child, priest – because we are each of us all of those things and so many more. I have studied Theater and English, and those are the things which pay the bills, but I’m not just a writer and actor, not just an artist. I paint, I sing, I play piano, write songs, draw, but I also run, I jump, I laugh, I go for walks in the rain, and I dream. There’s a million facets to everyone and, if you decide to keep reading me, you’ll get to see them emerge, entry by entry.

So if you’re looking for political commentary, or jokes, or any other single thing – you’re in the wrong place. Yes, I may write about social or political issues. I may write some really funny entries. But I am just as likely to explore a thought I had that relates to philosophy or a scientific theory. I may write an entire entry on why I believe that no amount of molasses will ever taste as good as one square of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

So, hello. My name is Walter F. Rodriguez, and I am going to share myself via this notebook, giving away pieces of myself to anyone who cares to take one. I welcome comments and questions, as they are signs of all of you giving a little bit of yourselves back. I hope that in this way we’re able to get to know each other and I look forward to that. Thank you for your time and your readership.