May 31, 2002

More Clean Up

I'm thinking that I must have slept right through May, and so did June. There's so much paper mail piled up in the kitchen that it's as though we weren't even here to go through it. No... it's even worse than that: it's as though we randomly mixed up the mail, blended it with piles of stuff retrieved from our cars, and then sprinkled in a load of crap emptied from pockets and purses. So (again, instead of working on my project budget report) I filled a waste can with ads, annual stock reports, and junk mail. Found a few things that had been AWOL, too, like the new PIN for my ATM card.

American Gods coverI'm just a few dozen pages away from finishing Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It reminds me of things I read in high school that imagine that the ordinary world we see is only a small part of what's really going on. The Crying of Lot 49 and The Centaur come to mind. The premise is that the gods worshipped by everyone who came to America are still here: Norse gods, African gods, forgotten ancient gods. They're blending in with the rest of us as funeral directors, prostitutes, FBI men, you name it. And there's a war brewing between these old gods and the new ones: media, internet, money.

This is the first book that I've really enjoyed in a long time. I've grown to like Shadow, the main character, and want things to turn out well for him, but it's probably not that kind of book. Gaiman is creative in an amazingly wide range of genres: comic books, plays, children's books and this novel, according to an interview I just came upon. Once he's mastered one form, he drops it and moves on. A serial one-trick pony, I guess.

May 30, 2002

Clean up Time

iMacWent groggily into campus to start working on the interim report for our PT3 grant. Once I got my marching orders from Marcie on what pieces I needed to do for the report, I quickly shifted gears (i.e., leaped into extreme avoidance behavior). Like: opening up the box for the new iMac and 17 inch flat display that arrived last week, moving my files from the old PowerMac 7500 that's been taking up space for far too long, and moving my Blue G3 over to where the 7500 was. I threw myself into throwing out old stuff and generated a huge temporary mess in the process. Once the dust settles, though, the office will look very slick with the new gear gracing my desk.

Tomorrow I'll have to get back to the soulkilling business of doing a budget report and writing up some of the other activity of the past 6 months.

May 29, 2002

Today in Tyler

The day began at 4AM when a wild thunderstorm woke me (and everyone else) up completely. Apparently this was a more dazzling storm than usual here and it was all the more impressive to this storm-deprived Californian. Another wave of lightning came through an hour later, just when I was dozing off again.

When I got to the school to do the workshop, the electricity had been knocked out by the storm and the router, the wireless access point and all the laptops had to be rebooted to re-establish the internet connection. There was a techie there to help out (the only other male in the whole building) and in hooking up the instructor laptop he knocked the brand new DLP data projector onto the floor. I watched him age 10 years in 2 seconds as he tried to squeeze the projector back together where it had split at the seams. Fortunately, everything worked. I hate to imagine what I would have done for a day without a projector.

workshopThis workshop was a challenge. The people who brought me in wanted the workshop to be about the Taskonomy as a way to describe learning tasks in general, not just as a way to build better WebQuests. The real monkey wrench came when the principal directed me to make sure that I portrayed Retelling as a perfectly good instructional strategy when I'm much more accustomed to describing it as the AntiWebQuest, as something not worth doing with technology.

I had all 30 teachers from the school there, but none had ever built a web page. They know Word and PowerPoint, and I was there to get them thinking about better tasks that they will at some point do with technology. It was not the usual sequence and though the workshop went pretty well, it felt strange.

maxwell bookThe drive back to DFW was quieter than yesterday. The driver was involved in a couple of multi-level marketing programs and was excited about the book he had in the front seat: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell. I skimmed through it for awhile and it seemed readable and useful. Now that I'm home, I've learned from the Amazon page that this book has sold over 700,000 copies. My radar doesn't beam into the Leadership realm much, obviously, or I would have heard of the book and author before. I tipped the driver enough to buy himself another new book.

May 28, 2002

Tip a Cab Driver and Tyler, Too

or maybe...Of Guns and Roses
Spent all day getting to Tyler, Texas, which I have since learned is the Rose Capital of the World. One symptom of that: people on corners selling a dozen red roses for $2! These are extra buds nipped from bushes that were grown to be shipped out as plantable elsewhere. The crop, apparently, is good this year.

And actually, I didn't tip the cab driver who took me for the two hour journey from DFW to Tyler. First, because the ride was already paid for by my sponsor, St. Gregory's School. And second, because he was an hour and a half late finding me at the airport. Third, though he saw me reading and scribbling comments on an ED 834 final report in the back seat, he talked incessantly with topics like these: the fat cats (Enron, etc.) get everything and aren't accountable to anyone; Republicans = good; Democrats = liars; people around us are becoming millionaire through multi-level marketing schemes. Hour two of the drive included a rant against gun control; a federal law has just been passed that disallows any criticism of political candidates; we only use 10% of our brain, so clearly the Creator is holding back our powers until we're spiritually developed enough to deserve them; and women have 450 billion fewer brain cells than men. I asked for the sources for all this wisdom and the only named document he could come up with was the NRA magazine America's First Freedom. The rest, I assume, came from his somehow accessing that other 90% of his brain that the rest of us can't get to. No tip, Bunkie.

May 27, 2002

Virtual Lodging Houses

Carnegie Lodging HouseFor Teenagers Nationwide, It's New York and It's 1904. Inspired by a film about newsboys, girls weave web sites full of lodging houses and local color. [New York Times: Technology]

This is a such a cool socio-technical creation; another way to reinvent the past and focus our interest in it. Tim Berners-Lee could not have foreseen such things. I dug around and found several of the sites described (but not linked) in the article: Hemstead, Newsies: The Lodging House, and Carnegie Hill. Surely there's a way to channel this energy towards educational goals?

Another Self-Imposed Project

Today was my scheduled session on Tapped In and as usual it took half the day to prepare. I'm getting smarter about these sessions, though, by trying to make sure that there's some residue at the end that I can build on.

The topic was Tricks and Tools for Spiffier WebQuests and I used the opportunity to update some of the tools I've used in the past and add a few new ones. I organized the chat around this new page, and now I've got a place to store things like this as I encounter them in the future. I had a small but appreciative crowd for the session.

Tomorrow I'm off to Tyler, Texas.

May 26, 2002

Another Way to Make History Interesting

You in 1905 is a page connected with yet another put-a-modern-family-back-in-time-public-TV program. This time they're going back to Edwardian England, a familiar place to any Upstairs, Downstairs fan. The working assumption of the page is that in that era, your entire life was determined by your father's occupation. So I bravely typed in my father's occupation (unemployed) and learned about life for the 1905 English Bernie Dodge:

You'll manage to get away without going to school and will start work when you're ten.

Career Prospects
You'll have temporary jobs, none for more than six months as you keep having to take time out to rest your bad back. You'll join a friendly society to help you out. You'll take home a few shillings for a week's hard work and will have to make sure it lasts a long time.

Leisure Time
You'll drink methylated spirits - it's the only alcohol you can afford at 4p a pint.

Living Conditions
You'll share various rooms in lodgings with other men. Some weeks you won't be able to afford to pay the rent and you'll be evicted.

Marital Relations
You won't marry but you'll make up for it by spending time with girls from the street.

World War One
You'll try to sign up to join the army when the war starts and will be rejected on medical grounds after physical examination.

Needless to say, I'm glad to have been born in a different time and place.

May 25, 2002

Quiet Saturday

covered wagonsWent to bed early last night with sore, swollen neck glands. For the sake of symmetry, I slept late, too. Still feeling achy and tired.

Alex spent last night at a Public Speaking Camp way out past Jamul and this afternoon we picked him up. The kids slept in bunk beds inside covered wagons and did the usual s'mores and stories around the campfire.

Alex speakingThe teacher was a lively, physically expressive homeschooling Mom. She led the kids in a final performance for the parents in which they related to us what they'd learned. It was all about body language, modulating your voice, conquering nervousness, and structuring what you say. Alex had a good time and says he'd like to do it again.

I'm heading for an early bedtime again. Going to curl up with Volume I of the Christ Clone Trilogy. Hope it's mostly about SciFi and Vatican politics and doesn't get all goddy on me.

May 24, 2002

Damn, I lead a lucky life!

Sometimes I think about what I get to do for a living and all I can do is to grin right out loud. Today was one of those times.

Greta Nagel was a doc student in a course that I taught two weeks of a decade ago. My topic was motivation and interestingness and something about that stuck in the back of Greta's mind and caused her to invite me to a brainstorming session today. Greta is now on the faculty of Cal State Long Beach and has some funding to do a planning study to create a Museum of Teaching and Learning.

So from 11AM until 7PM I got to toss out ideas and listen to the others in the group in a moving conversation that started at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, moved to the Stephen Birch Aquarium and ended with dinner at the new Lodge at Torrey Pines. All this for a $100 honorarium, but what I'm grateful for is the fact that I could spend a day like this instead of staying indoors hunched over a lens grinder or in a factory like my father and uncles.

May 23, 2002

Bring on the Biometrics!

Spent most of the day grading 470 projects. If there's a common theme for the day, though, it's that this is an awkward in-between era we're living through and I'll be glad when it's over.

We're surrounded by systems that need to know who we are, and they're all different and it's getting to be a pain to deal with them. Case in point: SDSU has finally developed a way for us to turn in grades electronically. For faculty like me who put grading off until the last minute, it should be terrific. To check out the system, I logged in with the temporary password I was given and plugged in the grades I had already done. Very slick system. I also took the opportunity to change the password to something I could remember and logged off.

Then, with a half hour to spare before the deadline, I logged in again to post the rest of my grades. Who the hell are you?! the system asked. I tried the old password and the new one several times and then the screen told me that my account had been locked down. The formerly slick system now saw me as a potential hacker trying to give even more A's away and it blew me off. So tomorrow I need to go physically to campus to turn in the rest.

Then off to pick up some dinner. I pulled up to the ATM and punched in my PIN. No way!, said the ATM. What I'd typed in was my old PIN but we just got new cards with a new PIN and since I'd only used it once a month ago, I'd forgotten what it was. No cash.

With Pizza Hut P'zones warming the back seat, I picked up June at Von's where she had spent the time getting groceries. They asked at the checkout if we had a Von's card. June said we did, so they typed in our phone number to get our discount. They lie!, said the cash register. We used to have a Von's card, but it's no longer in the system. So we spent another few minutes applying for another one to get $8 off our $40 order.

thumb printIf only all these systems could just look me in the retina or gaze lovingly at my thumbprint. No muss, no fuss. I'm willing to let Big Brother know my bank account balance, my grocery buying habits and my grading behavior for the blissful convenience of it all. He already knows it all anyway.

Turns out the Department of Justice has "" target="_blank">a search engine to help one find the latest and greatest technologies from this realm. Not surprising.

May 22, 2002

Zona Ramona

A picture named ramona.jpg
Not a very interesting day. June & I went to meet with Jennifer (principal of Julian Charter School) to talk over the next steps in developing their web site, purchase ordering system, and so on. The heat may be off us for the first part because a vendor who first wanted $90K to do the ordering has now caved down to $30K. At that price, it's worth outsourcing and we can focus on some of the funner stuff. We met Jennifer partway by going to Ramona and had our meeting outdoors over coffee. The perfect place for a meeting: road noise, smokers puffing at a table nearby, too much glare to see the PowerBook screen. I could have stayed there all day.

Although Ramona is only 40 minutes from home, it's like another planet. As we left town we passed a roadside stand selling cowboy hats. Hundreds of them. And not touristy hats with spangles; they were serious.

Budgetary Blip
Then on to SDSU for the end of semester meeting for 470 instructors. Philip has now taken charge of the course after a year of our co-doing and he had not-good news to report. Thanks to the dotbomb+Enron-induced budget crisis facing the state, we may be asked to cut our course offerings by 40%, thus endangering all the new sections entwined with teacher ed blocks. Bah!

A picture named entep026.jpgNetscape 7.0 was pre-released today, and I'm playing with it. Can't tell yet if Composer has improved enough for us to use it in 470 without grinding our teeth down to stumps.

The high point of the day came late. The season finale of Enterprise. Interesting plot based on spillover from the Temporal Cold War being waged from the 31st century. It ended with a quiet cliffhanging that won't get resolved until Fall. Alex speculates that the next ST series will be all about that.

May 21, 2002

w00t!!!!, as Alex would say.
Waterbury stereoview
I'm soon to be the proud owner of 4 stereoviews of downtown Waterbury. These went up on e-bay just a few minutes before my regular check for such things. I circumvented the usual pitched bidding war with my nemesis Squire.Jonn by using the "Buy It Now" option. (Don't ask what I paid. It's worth it to me.)

Unlike the postcards I've been accumulating which go back to around 1900 or so, these photos are from the 1870s and show buildings that I've read about but have never seen. Popping these into my antique viewer will provide a sneak preview of my longterm hobby project of creating a 3D model of the Brass City. My own private time machine.

The Deep Web: Surfacing Hidden Value

This piece was published last summer and was pointed to by today's issue of the "" target="_blank">Distance Educator. It's an interesting followup to the first deep web article from 2000 which estimated that the number of web pages out there is over 500 billion, and that search engines have only indexed 2% of it or so.

The article points out that the deep web, those pages that are generated on the fly by back-end databases, is growing faster than the surface web and that the information contained there is more valuable. There's a list of the top fifty (i.e., largest) deep web sites. Among the more interesting ones:

Think I'll add some of these to my Specialized Search Engines page.

So what good are libraries these days?

Alex's new card
Alex has a research paper due (today!) so yesterday I took him to the library to do some digging about it. Like most wired kids, he'd just as soon use the web for everything, but his Great Books teacher required the actual reading and referencing of actual paper resources. Though we've been taking him to the local branch library for years, I was surprised to see that the business of going from the online card catalog to finding books in the stacks was still pretty unfamiliar to him. I guess we've been picking out books for him and he's just wandered the stacks picking things out by eye. At 14, he should be ready to make his own way through the library, I think. We filled out the application and now he has his own library card. He wasn't as jazzed about it as I thought he'd be. Instead he (half jokingly) says that I'm just trying to avoid huge fines caused by his losing books checked out on my card.

Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury, ConnecticutI'm mulling this over in contrast to my own library use a generation ago. I walked to the old Silas Bronson Library in Waterbury at least once a week. I had a card from 2nd grade on which limited me to the children's room. From about 5th grade onward I used my Mom's card to check out books from the rest of the building. Getting my own post-kid card was a big milestone. To me, a snowy day spent browsing through the stacks and being able to take home any six I wanted was about as good as it gets.

But our voracious reader son isn't as dependent on libraries as I was. He can look up the answer to any question on the web in seconds. The wonderful thing is that he actually does that routinely. When he hears a term he doesn't know, he hops to or Google at the drop of a hat. Great habit of mind. I couldn't be happier.

But there's something magical about stumbling on a book that someone just left out on a table, a book about something that you would never have looked for deliberately on Google. Will that accidental incidental learning happen less in webspace than in libraries, or even more often? Will the next generation be masters of more snippets of information but have fewer book-length schema to hold them together? I guess we'll find out.

May 20, 2002

microoptical glasses
From digitalMASS: In the future, we'll be seeing the world differently. Scott Kirsner. MicroOptical Corp., a Westwood-based technology firm, produces computer displays that can be integrated into -- or clipped onto -- eyeglasses. The displays can be connected to a wide range of devices, like a cellphone, PDA, laptop, Blackberry, or a specially designed wearable computer. [Tomalak's Realm]

This is one of those technologies that stands a good chance of changing everything. It's one of the Big Five along with wireless access to the net, voice input, light weight and low power consumption. Everything is headed along these five tracks and once we're there at a reasonable price, we've got a mini-version of telepathy and omniscience. Of course, we'll also have to invent some new conventions for blending this politely into the face-to-face world. Linda Stone's concept of continuous partial attention, something that anyone with a teen in the house is familiar with, is going to become part of the fabric of everyday life across all generations, I think.

Neo-Luddites can relax. It's going to take awhile longer. At the moment, the VGA color version of these glasses sells for $2500, and that's only 640x480 resolution. Give it another 5 years, though, and some of us will have the good parts of Borg-hood without that pesky downside of a lack of autonomy.

May 19, 2002

Allison & BrockTo Commence
What hath God wrought? That's one small step for a man? Watson, come here, I need you?

Since I can't come up with any stirring first words, I think I'll just move on to second words.

Today was graduation day. A happy day for our students. Our department graduation party was the best in memory. Nothing preachy or ponderous. Every segment of the program was funny and crisp. Very well organized by Marcie and Minjuan.

Dave MerrillOur mini-keynote was by Dave Merrill, one of the few extremely creative and clear thinkers in instructional design. Just as he did in his last visit a dozen years ago, he urged students to write up the things they do. He told them that there's wisdom in practitioners that needs to be represented in the literature. That it's perfectly OK to "make stuff up" as long as you can support it. That was just the thing to inspire the grads. Good words to internalize.

Pictures of the event are at