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Thursday, March 24, 2016

A 19th-Century Nod to Jane Austen: Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House

Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House (1859) is a very engaging and entertaining read. Many readers have compared Eden with Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell. Eden, who was the seventh daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, and his wife Eleanor Elliot, renders a whimsical comedy of manners and satirizes the domestic sphere.

Emily Eden
The novel starts as Lady Chester, who is expecting her first child, moves into "the prettiest villa" to be near her Aunt Sarah and Cousin Blanche while her husband, Lord Chester, is away on a special mission to Berlin. The house that has been contracted is "semi-detached," or what would be referred to as a duplex in the U.S. A bit of snobbery creates the initial tension with the neighbors, who consist of the wife of a sea captain who has become wealthy with frequent merchant voyages to India, and her two daughters. The father / husband is still away on his sea voyage. In the meantime, various characters are introduced and they interact in ways reveal the daily lives and concerns of middle class society and the gentry.
The Semi-Detached House
There are many characters in The Semi-Detached House, and the represent a kind of cosmology or tableau vivre of society. There are rogues (the Baron Sampson) and the mobile middle class. However, as opposed to the protagonists in Austen and Gaskell, in Eden's narrative realm, the reader does not plumb the depths and explore the inner landscape of the main characters with all their contradictions and longings. Instead, Eden's omniscient narrator observes all the characters and their interactions, but does not establish such extreme intimacy. Thus, there is not the episode of awakened self-awareness (accompanied by an epiphany of shame and self-recrimination that you would find in Austen (I'm thinking of Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey). Nevertheless, Emily Eden's characters are quirky but not to the point of farcical, and as a comedy of manners, the novel effectively satirizes behaviors and customs.

While Eden does discuss social situations as impacted by the economic context (bank crisis and swindlers), she does not go as deeply into the vast changes brought about by technological and socio-economic change as she does in the case of My Lady Ludlow and North and South.

For me, Emily Eden is something of light-hearted and modest antecedent of some of Anthony Trollope's work, namely The Way We Live Now (according to many, his masterpiece), in the sense that it satirizes society and the types of people bred by them.

Some of the elements of the Semi-Detached House that made the book memorable to me:

1. Details of daily life in the early 19th century
2. Description of going into labor and childbirth (Lady Chester)
3. The shamelessness of a swindler and he and his wife's extravagant lifestyle; the betrayal of trust
4. A morose brother-in-law (and the traditions of mourning, etc.)
5. The upward mobility and opportunities provided by becoming a captain of a merchant vessel
6. The potential for positive transformation by means of friendship (casting off playing a part of morose mourning, and allowing one's cynicism / defensive carapace to break down a bit)

Eden's later work, The Semi-Attached Couple, is a darker look at human nature in relationships, replete with the pain of misinterpretations and gossip.

Eden, who spent time in India, also wrote letters that chronicled her travels. The book, Up the Country is available via Project Gutenberg. Her Letters from India are available atA Celebration of Women Writers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Finding ways to make skills training enjoyable, effective, and affordable continues to be a major challenge for organizations. SkillStore has tackled the challenge via social learning, and has deployed training that incorporates what we know about how people learn and gain confidence about themselves.

Welcome to an interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore. For a limited time, SkillStore is offering six free courses. The instructions are at the end of the article.

 1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is Srikant Vasan, and I've been working in e-learning for 7 years. In that time, I have served as a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was their first Entrepreneur-in-Residence, where I had the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations in online learning. I was also the Founder and President of Mount St. Mary's Online College, a nonprofit online college (funded by leading donors including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and the Walton family) focused on helping low-income Americans get quality college degrees affordably.

Srikant Vasan, SkillStore
Now at SkillStore, we offer an effective and scalable soft skills training solution through our social-learning app. We launched the app last year, in collaboration with leading companies like Western Union and SAP. SkillStore’s approach to transforming soft skills training – where learners record their practices and get feedback from coaches and peers – is catching on. Users in over 40 countries now access SkillStore from their laptops, smartphones or tablets for leadership development, communications and management training.

2.  How did you become interested in elearning?
I became interested in elearning because of my background in both education and technology. Elearning is an effective and engaging tool to empower learners. Technology, especially mobile learning, is the future of training and development.

3.  What are some of the soft skills that most professionals need to have, regardless of their specialty?
People skills are critical. Research estimates that 85% of professional success is due to strong social skills. In particular, listening and observing others, effectively communicating, negotiating, and empowering others are essential to success in a professional environment. In a competitive business environment, managers are increasingly seeking employees who have strong people skills and can work well with others in the office as well as with clients.

4.  What causes much of the training that is offered in today's environment to be less than ideal?
Research estimates that about 80% of training is wasted, especially that focused on soft skills development. We think the root cause for this is that today’s training methods – both in-person and online – have severe shortcomings. These programs tend not to be engaging or effective. They typically focus on delivering content, but don't allow learners to practice the skills in real-life situations. Learners spend a lot of the day reading, watching videos, or listening to someone speak. They don't retain the material.

Additionally, instructor-led workshops are expensive, time-consuming, and hard to scale and standardize, and thus are not a realistic option for most organizations. Not to mention, millennials tend to hate long lectures and classroom settings. And web-based training typically offers few opportunities to practice these skills interactively and learn with other people in a social learning environment. People skills are best developed by practicing with other people.

5.  How is helping?  What makes SkillStore unique?
SkillStore helps because it addresses skills that helps professionals succeed, such as emotional intelligence, running effective meetings, negotiating a promotion, and nonverbal communication. What makes SkillStore unique are the following features of its learning model.

•    Focus on practice. Consider that one week after a lecture, learners remember only about 10% of the information. Even after re-reading the material, one week later they will only retain 39%. If they practice these skills, the retention rate goes up substantially, to as much as 80%. Ideally, at least 50% of time training on any subject should be spent on active practice. Practice is one of the most fundamental aspects of skill development, yet it is likely the most overlooked element in corporate learning programs.

•    Enable feedback
. Practice and feedback go hand-in-hand for skill development. The best type of feedback involves observations and suggestions about a practice session, delivered in a candid, constructive manner. This includes self-evaluation (because watching yourself on video is incredibly instructive) and feedback provided by peers and managers.

•    Enable social learning. Social interaction creates richer experiences and increased application opportunities. With peer interaction and feedback, learners enhance their understanding from others’ experiences, approaches, and perspectives. This aspect of social learning leads to greater engagement with and effectiveness of training programs. An important side benefit is that learning together is a powerful community builder that helps to forge deeper relationships and a vibrant company culture.

•    Offer micro-learning.  Learning is more convenient and effective when offered in small chunks, especially with today’s hectic schedules. Even better is when learning is an ongoing, on-demand initiative available to managers when and how they need it. In a survey of learning professionals, 90% reported preferring more “bite-sized,” or micro-learning.

•    Let you learn anywhere. Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, so their preferences help define learning approaches for the future. They are tech-savvy and value flexibility regarding when and where they work and learn. They expect learning to be as accessible as a map to the nearest restaurant and available in the palm of their hands. This means fewer classrooms and schedules, and learning that can be accessed anywhere – on the Web, on smartphones, or on other mobile devices.

6.  Please describe a few of your favorite courses -- give an example of some unusual and beneficial things that happened in the courses.

It might makes more sense to describe some of the curricula. Leading Change has learning modules that help managers manage change in their organizations; Working in Teams has learning modules that develop strong professional teams; and Hiring the Best has learning modules that demonstrate best practices in hiring new employees. Our feedback from clients has been fantastic. One learner used the Negotiating Salary module in the Women in Leadership curriculum and then successfully negotiated a higher salary for herself. She said that before going through that lesson she never would have thought of asking for a higher salary.

7.  What are your plans for the future?
We believe SkillStore has the potential to transform leadership and management skills training at scale. We aim to become the leader in soft skills training programs that help organizations efficiently develop their employees' skills. We are just getting started and it will be exciting to see where we go from here.


All you need to do is to go to our website, and click the sign up free button.

To go directly to the sign up form, click

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Rwanda and East Africa Petroleum Discoveries: Opportunities and a Country on the Verge....

A transformation has happened in the East African nation of Rwanda, where the gorgeous misty mountains and the mysterious waters of Lake Kivu are part of one of the most stable countries in the continent. Located on the flanks of a geological province where new discoveries of oil and gas have been made, Rwanda could have even more transformations in its future.

Will discoveries to East Africa be a blessing or will they usher in the notorious “resource curse”? Check what you know about Rwanda and what is planned. 

Brief Profile of Rwanda
Rwanda, the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” is home to endangered mountain gorillas, many of which live in the Volcanoes National Park.  Characterized by gorgeous mist-filled valleys and verdant slopes, the hills have a magical quality.

The capital city, Kigali, with one million inhabitants, is nestled in the hills. It is the governmental and financial center, with a number of office complexes and hotels.

 While Rwanda is still well known for the genocide that occurred in 1994, what is less well-known is the fact that the government has achieved an impressive level of stability. The population is 12 million, of which only 29 percent live in urban centers.   The economy consists primarily of subsistence-level farming by small-holder owners.  Because of Rwanda’s relatively high population density, there is a need to find a way to diversify the economy and create more efficient farms and to develop mineral resources. 

Petroleum Exploration in Rwanda
Interest in the hydrocarbon potential of Rwanda has intensified in the last five years after the discovery of significant reserves in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.  Sedimentary rocks in Rwanda primarily consist of sandstones, alternating with shales. There are numerous granitic intrusions, which has resulted in significant areas of metamorphic rocks. According to Schluter in the Geological Atlas of Africa, Rwanda’s sedimentary sequences indicate a former shallow marine environment, typified by  high energy. (Schluter, 2008).

There are sedimentary megasequences in the Miocene that correspond to tectonic events.  Miocene extension and volcanism resulted in possible fluvial sediments. Later, a Pleistocene eruption produced Lake Kivu.

Currently, Tertiary Rift exploration has resulted in new discoveries. The new Ngamia Discovery extends the Lake Albert Play into the Lake Turkana area. It is similar in size to the entire North Sea Graben system.  There are more than 80 prospects and leads mapped from seismic and other data.

It is important to note that Lake Kivu’s methane gas resources are currently being partially exploited by Rwanda and also the Congo Democratic Republic, which shares the lake and the resources.  Lake Kivu, contains approximately 60 billion cubic meters of methane and 300 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide. These gases are generated from the decomposition of organic material and volcanic activity (Rosen, 2015). Extracting the gas has two benefits: first, it can generate electricity, and second, a dangerous and destructive natural eruption/explosion can be avoided.

What lies beneath Lake Kivu, and the potential for significant petroleum accumulations in the underlying sediments is a question that has been fascinating geologists for several years, and now has gained the attention of the region.

Rwanda took the spotlight at the 7th East African Petroleum Conference and Exhibition in March 2015. Bolstered by new discoveries in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, as well as significant shows in neighboring Burundi, geologists signaled reasons for optimism, and pointed to the similarities of the geological provinces.  Thanks to extensive preliminary work by several companies, including Black Swan Energy Services, the Rwandan government has supported further exploration. Here is an overview: 

Lake Kivu is on a hydrocarbon fairway (western arm of the rift valley) that starts with 1.5 billion barrel oil field under and adjacent to Lake Albert approx. 300 kilometers to the north. To the south is Lake Tanganyika with oil seeps. Lake Kivu has equally encouraging SAR slicks. In addition, excellent seismic results on Lake Edward 100 kilometers to the North will result in 3 wells being drilled there this year by Dominion Resources.

While the Kivu basins may not be as large as other basins in East Africa, this in no way minimizes the oil potential of this Basin. The Albertine Basin is estimated to have generated well in excess of 100 billion barrels of oil within its confines. Tullow and Heritage are estimating a 3% to 10% trapping ratio for this resource and have already publically stated they have found 1.5 billion recoverable barrels of oil and have not yet scratched the enormous potential of this area. (Vangold, 2009)

The most up to date and extensive work done so far in Lake Kivu is from Black Swan Energy Services. In February 2015, BSES was hired by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Rwanda to review the existing data, make a study on the HC potential of the sediments underneath of Lake Kivu.

With the dual resources of methane from Lake Kivu, and the potential for Albertine-type petroleum reservoirs, Rwanda could transform itself into an important oil producer in a near-term time frame.

Tender for Seismic Acquisition and Processing
The government of Rwanda, located in east-central Africa, has completed two projects that deal with exploring for oil and gas in the areas that are most prospective for the kinds of discoveries now being made in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Now, a third project has been authorized, which involves seismic data acquisition and processing in Lake Kivu, Rwanda.   The objective is to acquire and process multichannel seismic data in order to map the sediments beneath Lake Kivu, where methane seeps and near-surface accumulations are already being used for energy generation. Now, the goal is to evaluate the sediments beneath Lake Kivu for their hydrocarbon potential.

The first step for interested individuals and companies is to submit an Expression of Interest by March 28 at 17:00 pm to the Ministry of Natural Resources Office in Nyarugenge Pension Plaza, KN 3rd Road, KIGALI.   The details are in Section V of the Tender Notice No. 24/15-16/MINIRENA.

Interview with Eva Peza, Black Swan Energy Services

1.  What is your name and your relationship to Rwanda?
My company is Black Swan Energy Services (BSES), an Oklahoma based company. BSES is an Advisor/Consultant for the Government of Rwanda

2.  Where is Rwanda in terms of geological settings?  What makes it positive for oil and gas exploration? Have there been any exploratory wells?  Any shows of oil and gas?
It is in The East African Rift System, which has had a lot of discoveries such as in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, etc. BSES made a study last year that indicates a lot of potential reserves. There are no wells yet. It is in the appraisal/ exploration phase.

3.  What is the government of Rwanda doing to stimulate interest in oil and gas exploration?
Has organized studies and is investing itself for exploration program. It is also inviting companies to participate in this tender and also has put oil and gas regulations in place.

4.  What is the purpose of the tender?
Seismic data acquisition and processing

5.  What are some of the main elements included in the tender?
The main elements are the technical requirements for offshore seismic acquisition and processing. The tender will come after. In this first stage the companies need to express the interest to take part in the tender.

6.  When will the tender take place?
In about two months from now.

If they don't express interest by March 28, by providing the requested documentation, they are not qualified for the tender.

The Road Ahead
With a revitalized governmental structure, political stability, and a willingness to invest in reconnaissance work, Rwanda has positioned itself to fully assess the oil and gas potential of the nation. The timing is excellent, with a temporary downturn freeing up resources, both in terms of expertise and equipment.  In the future, the individuals who established expertise and also who facilitated knowledge transfer to help develop the human capital within the nation, will be in an excellent position to lead projects and forge new ideas.


CIA World Factbook Entry

Rosen, J.W. (2015) Lake Kivu’s Great Gas Gamble. MIT Technology Review. April 16, 2015.

Schluter, T. (2008). Geographical Atlas of Africa, With Notes on Stratigraphy, Tectonics, Economic Geoogy, Geohazards, Geosites, and Geoscientific Education Of Each Country.  Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Vangold. (2009) Vangold Granted 90 Day Extension for Lake Kivu. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Interview with Eric Hung, -- Innovators in E-Learning Series

Having access to the best instructors and the best course content can provide learners with the support they need to excel in high school AP courses, college and in their professions. For, the goal of providing outstanding instruction and content in science and math has been a goal that they are achieving via innovative e-learning platforms and a way that brings out the best in outstanding instructors and content.

Welcome to an interview with Eric Hung, co-founder of

1. What is your name, affiliation, and relation to elearning?
Hi, my name is Eric Hung and I'm the co-founder of  I've been with the company since its launch in 2009.  My co-founder and I created the company after college to address a problem of having less than stellar instructors in our high school and college career.  We imagined a site where you could access all the best instructors' lesson.

Eric Hung,
2.  What is  How does it help people? is an online math & science instructional video service (think Netflix for online tutoring).  We help students reach their potential with effective and time-saving videos taught by passionate teachers.  We differentiate ourselves from other services by going really in-depth with an average course length of 30 hours.  Our platform also uses two videos, one traditional video that shows the handwriting of the instructor, and another video of the actual instructor to give our lessons a one-on-one tutoring feel.

3.  What is's target audience?  What are some of the services and offerings?
Our target audience is the high school or college student who needs help in their math & science courses.  We specialize in AP exam help for high school and pre-medicine courses for college students.  Some examples of our top courses include Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, and AP Calculus AB.  We fill the gap for families who value education but either can't afford private tutors or have inconvenient schedules, as well as give students a 24-hour option for help in addition to in-person tutoring.

4.  What do you think are some of the most intense challenges facing young learners today?
I think one of the most intense challenges is wondering if what they are learning in the classroom will actually help them in the future, aside from passing the class and scoring well on standardized tests.  I always get asked if my college degree in Biomedical Engineering (Duke) and Master's Degree in Medical Devices (USC) helped me out in creating Educator.  I respond with a resounding yes, that the background aided me in fact checking lessons in the beginning.  But how it really helped was how it instilled my work ethic and interpersonal skills along the way.  I doubt I could get great instructors to take me seriously if I weren't educated myself.

5.  Young learners may prepare for high-stakes standardized tests by following a specific instructional strategy. What is it?
I believe the strategy to prepare for high-stake tests is to first understand the underlying concepts.  However, then the edge goes to students who can afford to take prep courses where they can focus on strategy and tons of practice.  I definitely believe there's a place for standardized testing, but that it should just be one piece of evaluating a student.

6.  Learners may be good at taking high-stakes standardized tests, but lack the confidence to be creative. How can you help build that confidence?
I believe it starts both at home and in the classroom, with parents and teachers nurturing students' natural curiosity.  Standardized tests might be a necessary evil but they shouldn't take all the classroom time which could be spent with more creative projects.  I also hope that parents aren't too obsessed with afterschool test prep to let their children pursue other non-academic activities.

7. What are some of the theoretical underpinnings incorporated in the offerings?
Our primary belief is that great teachers can change everything.  If you ask anyone to think of their best teachers, they usually don't have trouble coming up with one, but seldom do you find someone coming with several. aims to change that by finding the best teachers for every subject.

Our secondary belief is that there needs to be a personal connection with the instructor.  I know that with static videos, it's a little tough, but we think that with our two video model, just seeing the instructor in addition to their handwriting and slides, can make the lesson much more effective.

8.  Can you tell us something about the software, interfaces, and architecture? How is it better than the competition?
Our primary difference is in our two video interface which combines both handwriting and slides along with a video of the instructor.  We believe this leads to a better learning environment. 

We also dive into subjects more in-depth than our competitors and break down each lesson down to each individual topic and make it searchable.  This way our students can search and find exactly what they are looking for.  In creating the syllabus of a course with an instructor, we actively tell them to create their dream course where everything they feel students need to learn is included.

9.  What are the theoretical underpinnings that assure you that example and sample questions are effective and demonstrate learning?
This is one area we can see some room for improvement.  As of now, our lessons include several extra worked out examples at the end of each lesson, along with a "quiz bank" underneath each video.  However, we are working on getting the questions to be adaptive so students can find out what skill they are missing and quickly watch the segment in the video again.

10.  What are some of your strategies to assure engagement and persistence?
There are only a few students that will actively sit down for 30+ minutes to watch a video and we understand this.  That's why we handpick our instructors to be as engaging and effective as possible. 

We ask them to weave in real-world examples and be as passionate as possible. 

We find persistence is tied to really helping students out in their homework, classes, and exams.  However, we also find that our subscriptions are cyclical with the school year and that more students sign up a month or two before the AP's and/or finals, and pause their accounts during summer.

Some of the things that make special:

1. Dropdown Menu Screenshot (100+ courses, screenshot shows our science courses, top courses right now are organic chemistry and biochemistry + a variety of AP's)

2. Instructor Introductions (meet our awesome instructors and also check out the free sample lessons and syllabus below)

3. Sample Video in Biochemistry (full free lesson where you can see our unique learning interface which has two videos, one of the tablet slides and one of the instructor, to give it a one on one tutoring feel)

4. Tons of Example Problems (almost all lessons have several worked out example problems that go over types of questions students will likely see in class)

5. Sample Questions (most math lessons will have sample questions beneath each lesson, and almost all subject lessons have study guides and downloadable lecture slides)

6. In-depth syllabus
(every lesson is broken down by sub-topic and time so you don't waste time and can search for the exact part of the video to watch)

Additional links:

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