August 30, 2002

Childhood's End

Alex had his friend Sam over for the day. They've known each other since they were a year and a half old and four moms got together to form the Friday group. Once a week the kids played together, with the moms taking turns setting up food, crafts and activities. All four kids went off to different schools but we've kept the relationship going on the holidays and other events. All four kids have turned out beautifully.

It was fun listening to Alex and Sam in the next room as they alternated between playing Magic, WarCraft, and a game they made up that takes no hardware, just imagination.

Alex: "OK, you're a Rigelian spy and you need to get off the planet to report on what you've learned."
Sam: "I go to the spaceport and book a flight."
Alex: "Not so fast. You've got an implant in your brain that they'll detect if you try to leave."
Sam: "Wait! You never told me about that before."
Alex: "So there it is. What are you going to do?"

And so on. Smart, nice kids. And since they both start high school on Tuesday, I was thinking of this as the end of a phase for them. Soon they'll have less time to dream up Rigelian spy stories because homework will hang over their heads. A bittersweet day.

August 29, 2002

What Works in Education? Soon You Can Look it Up

In spite of budget limitations, the U. S. Department of Education earlier this month awarded a contract for a What Works Clearinghouse. This could be very useful as long as it's based on research and not overly biased by the present regime's love of easily-measured factual recall.

August 26, 2002

Science Fiction Leads to Terrorism

A Guardian article War of the Worlds, makes the case that Osama bin Laden was inspired by Asimov's Foundation series. How? There are lots of parallels, starting with the fact that "al-Qaida" is the word used in the title when Foundation was translated into Arabic. Apparently the Japanese nutgroup Aum Shinrikyo was also influenced by the book. Ironically, Asimov was a pacifist. Talk about unintended consequences. UPDATE: According to this link via GeekPress, this story doesn't hold up. As Roseanne Rosannadanna would say, "Nevermind".

The Mathematics of Bingo

How many numbers have to be called out before someone yells "Bingo!"? It depends. Since I'm gearing up to teach the game design course again, this article about Probabilities in Bingo caught my eye. One of the new assignments or exercises I'm thinking about adding to the course involves figuring out what makes things fun. That will take a combination of motivation theory and math to figure out. [from Science News via Geek Press]

Another Year Begins

It's hard to believe that I've been here this long. Today my 22nd summer in San Diego officially came to a close with the Fall College of Education Assembly. Lots of new faces in other departments. Grim news ahead as another budget cut is likely after the elections.

Not to worry. We've got enough equipment and faculty to stick it out for a lean year or two. I'm looking forward to getting started again.

August 25, 2002

Wrestling with the Platypus

Spent my waking hours this weekend playing with PHP and SQL. Not playing, actually. It's more intense and brow-furrowing than that. Fortunately I've got a pile of books to learn from, and today Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL was at the top of the heap. It helped a lot.

I've got a long list of projects based on LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and it's been hard figuring out how to get them started. There's such a huge list of things to learn and I'm too impatient to go through the usual toy exercises to learn each bit. I wanted to learn as I build so I decided to start with user authentication: figuring out how to control access to different pages based on a database of usernames and passwords.

Today I got that part done, and it will be the foundation for June's Julian Charter School projects, new improvements to the WebQuest page, and new web-based versions of my lesson planning and adventure-game authoring tools. The sky's the limit and I finally feel as though I'm one rung up the ladder.

August 23, 2002

Putting Money Where the Mouth Is

Wow. There's a list of what various entertainers get on the college circuit. Here's a sampling, sorted from pricy to bargain basement:

Adam Sandler - $100K + !!!!
Sting - $100K +
Jay Leno - $75K
Jon Stewart - $65K
Dennis Miller - $50K
Kids in the Hall - $40K
Wayne Brady - $40K
Weird Al Yankovic - $20K
Ellen Degeneres - $35K
Art Garfunkel - $25K
Joan Rivers - $20K
Rockapella - $10K
Laurie Anderson - $10K
Arlo Guthrie - $7.5K
Rich Hall - $2.5K

I'd enjoy seeing any of these except for Adam Sandler and Joan Rivers. I wish there were a similar list of public speakers on the education circuit. I'm never sure how to price myself. Higher than Rich Hall, anyway. [from Boing Boing]

Invasion of the Time-Sucking Electric Box

Thanks to Tivo, we watched Invasion of the Saucer-Men tonight. It's one of the movies of my yoot, and it had all the standard ingredients of a late 50s teen movie: befuddled adults who refuse to believe the kids; secretive military guys; skeptical cops; and drunken cows. The technology of Tivo is certainly broadening our cultural horizons.

It wasn't totally wasted time, though. With our laptops before us, we multitasked. June whipped up web pages for Julian Charter School. Alex rewrote his blog software in PHP from scratch. I watched the movie.

OSX.2 Arrives!

The Airborne Express truck just brought me the goofy box with Jaguar spots that I've been waiting for. Soon I'll be able to jump higher, run faster, play concert piano, bowl a perfect 300, catch flies with my bare hands, and solve non-linear equations in my head. Just you wait and see.

August 22, 2002

Wacko in Waco

Arianna Huffington, who I like more and more as time goes on, got it right in last week's column: Wacko In Waco: The Brunch Bushians Drink The Kool-Aid

"But while the Burning Bush preached to the choir at Baylor, an ominous rumbling was coming from outside. This time, it was not ATF sharpshooters and tanks, it those ordinary citizens the Brunch Bushians pretended to include in Waco. They keep losing jobs and losing their savings while their president keeps telling them that, despite the increasingly grim realities of their daily lives, they still gotta believe in the Bushians’ Holy Trinity: more tax cuts, less regulation, and more domestic energy exploration."

Now on Ebay: A Shuttle Simulator

eBay item 2131428812 (Ends Aug-24-02 17:22:43 PDT ) - Full-size space shuttle flight deck simulator. This was built by a teacher and used in a school for years. The auction will end in two days, but the details will probably stay up for awhile. The asking price is $14999 and so far there are no bidders. Somehow, I'm not tempted. [from Gizmodo]

August 21, 2002

Fahrenheit 2002

Alex and I watched Fahrenheit 451 thanks to Tivo this morning. It's not a great flick but it was better than I remembered. It struck us as very timely, not so much because of the anti-intellectualism and censorship, but because of the chase at the end in which citizens were told to stand at their front doors to watch for the escaping Montag. On every corner was a special mailbox for turning in your neighbors (or spouse) for anti-social behavior. Everyone was under surveillance by everyone else. A great depiction of Ashcroft's TIPS program without all that much exaggeration.

This is a movie worthy of a remake. Meanwhile I found two WebQuests based on the book [1] [2] and learned that LA's new mayor chose it as the subject of his first citywide book club. I wonder if LA is still doing that, now that Oprah has moved on.

A Fresh Voice

I heard a bit of Steve Earle's new Jerusalem CD while racing to the airport in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago. Not my usual music but I think I'll buy it when it comes out on September 24. The sympathetic cut about John Walker Lindh is sure to raise a huge ruckus soon. Will Steve Earle be this generation's Dylan?

How Legends of the Paranormal Start

Clock runs out on long-told story of time traveler, a piece from an Ohio site, tells us about a man who tracked down a pseudoscience tale to its roots. Great stuff. Should make you tighten up your crap detector the next time you watch one of those shows hosted by Leonard Nimoy. [from The Sideshow]

August 20, 2002

Making the Familiar Strange and the Strange Even Stranger

Ever wondered what things look like to a newly arrived immigrant kid who speaks no English and understands very little about our culture? A trip to this Alien club site might help you understand that perspective. It's so inscrutible that you'll feel completely adrift.

The Moscow Times explains what it's about: a kind of social club for Russian-savvy aliens passing through here on Earth. And to think, we used to worry that these guys were going to bury us. (Thanks to CamWorld for the link.)

Thiagi Speaks

From elearningpost: Hard talk with Thiagi is an interview with Sivisailam Thiagarajan, probably the most delightfully unpronounceable educational technologists ever. Of course, everyone calls him tee-ah'-ggee.

"In designing training courses, I frequently begin by creating activities first and then loading them with content. I use suitable frames or shells to work with different existing sources of content.

Here are some examples:

  • I use textra games to enhance text materials from books, reference manuals, reprints, handouts, and job aids. In a textra game called QUESTION CARDS, participants independently read a handout and work in teams to create a large number of cards with questions on one side and answers on the other. I collect these question cards, add some of my own, mix the pile, and conduct a quiz activity using the questions and answers.

  • I use infohunt games when the content is available on the Web. In a typical infohunt, participants search for different pieces of information from the Web and analyze,

  • I use activities called video vitamins with videotaped documentaries, case studies, dramatizations, interviews, and talking-head presentations. These activities encourage participants to review, reflect, and apply new values, concepts, and skills presented in the video. RASHOMON is a typical video vitamin used with case studies and dramas. At the beginning of the activity, I assign key roles from the storyline to different participants. At the conclusion of the video presentation, I assemble participants into same-role teams and have them

  • I use lecture games when the content is so novel that it resides only in the mind of an expert. In a lecture game called PUZZLING PRESENTATION, I use a crossword puzzle as a test of mastery of the content. I distribute copies of the crossword puzzle at the beginning of the lecture and encourage mutual learning by asking participants to work in pairs. I ask the expert to give a lecture presentation and stop the presentation from time to time to provide puzzle-solving interludes.
    I use different structured sharing activities when I want to elicit content from participants’ own experience and expertise. Many of the activities involve brainstorming, generating bits of content, and organizing the content."

A very creative teacher and designer. He's high on my list of people I wish I could learn from more directly.

August 19, 2002

Is That All IT is?

News: Rumors: Segway isn't really Ginger

"The conspiracy theorists also claim Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and someone not known for participating in hoaxes, also claims to have seen Ginger--and says it's not Segway.

Metcalfe told the New York Times earlier this year: "Some months ago when speculation was running high, I said that Kamen's IT was more important than the Internet, but not as important as cold fusion, had cold fusion worked out. The IT I was talking about, which I did not disclose, was NOT Segway. That's all I can say."

I've been more tuned in than most to the Ginger/Segway/IT story since my path crossed within spitting distance of Dean Kamen in the early 70s when I was a quasi-administrator and he was a quasi-student at WPI. What if the real thing is actually more amazing?

Maybe that's an ongoing thread in my life: I would love to be astonished.

Attack of the Muhnochwa

India calls in X-Files agents to unmask face-scratching alien. I suppose if they ever touch down, the first thing they'd want to do is to scratch up our faces, right?

Ender's Game

It's hardly new, but I've been hearing about this book from people in my game design class and picked it up in Connecticut. Read most of it on the endless plane ride home and finished it yesterday. I gave it to Alex last night and he had it finished this afternoon. It's great to find something entertaining that I could share with him without hesitation. I understand now why it was all the buzz among the kids in his Johns Hopkins class last month. One reviewer on Amazon said that the other 5 books in the series aren't as good, but that didn't stop me from ordering them all. We'll see how it all turns out.

Spinny, the Image Boy!

Spinny is just one of a series of Flash masterpieces by Mark Fiore. Man, I wish I could do things like this. Ashcroft would have me behind barbed wire quicker than you can drape a towel over the busom of Justice.

August 18, 2002

When Body Parts Turn Against You

For more than a week, my left knee has been killing me. Three or four years ago, I started to get twinges of pain when getting in and out of the car or when sitting too long on a plane. Standing up for a few minutes was all it took to make it go away. Now, however, it hurts constantly, and hurts even more when I get up out of a chair or try to squat down to help someone at a computer. So what gives?

A quick Google search for chronic knee pain brought up sites that suggest that this is not uncommon for those over 40 and that acetaminophen and stretching exercises are what's usually called for. I've stretched a bit and that helped a bit, but this pain is keeping me awake at night and distracting me from work. This sucks!

August 16, 2002

My Week in Connecticut

I was invited in to teach three days of ILS693, a course at Southern Connecticut State University for library media specialists, pre-service teachers and teachers which ended today. A very satisfying experience! They got a lot done in one week. The variance within the class was wider than usual, but even those who looked not fully motivated or well prepared at the start got deeply into it and advanced a lot during the 5 days. Their final projects still need some polish, but I'm very pleased with how it went.

As part of the process, I got to know Bill Derry and Nancy Disbrow from SCSU. More pedagogical cousins to add to my professional family tree.

August 15, 2002

Learning with Confidence

Learning with Confidence, by Stephen Yurkiw, provides a readable manifesto for teaching differently.

"Experiential learning, including games and simulations, can be not only motivating, but very effective in developing exploration and experimentation. This can be challenging for teachers to incorporate into classroom practices, as there is a great deal of ambiguity involved in these types of activities. While the teacher can identify the learning objectives and the potential outcomes of these activities, students have a wide range of avenues of exploration open to them, avenues over which the teacher has limited control. However, encouraging students to formulate their own problems is more beneficial that offering a steady stream of answers to questions that students have not posed for themselves (Swann, 1998). In order to encourage students to ask meaningful questions, generate alternative solutions, appreciate a variety of viewpoints and develop multiple intelligences, a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty are not only inevitable, but necessary for good teaching (Novick, 1996)."

Looks like a great rationale for everything I'm promoting in my classes, from games to WebQuests. I'd like to meet this guy.

August 14, 2002

Has Ashcroft Ever Read the Constitution?

Los Angeles Times: Camps for Citizens: Ashcroft's Hellish Vision by Jonathan Turley.

"Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's announced desire for camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be "enemy combatants" has moved him from merely being a political embarrassment to being a constitutional menace. Ashcroft's plan, disclosed last week but little publicized, would allow him to order the indefinite incarceration of U.S. citizens and summarily strip them of their constitutional rights and access to the courts by declaring them enemy combatants. The proposed camp plan should trigger immediate congressional hearings and reconsideration of Ashcroft's fitness for this important office. Whereas Al Qaeda is a threat to the lives of our citizens, Ashcroft has become a clear and present threat to our liberties."

When will there be enough of these dangerous embarassments to bring things to a Tipping Point? Just in time for the mid-term elections, I hope!

August 13, 2002

In Search of Moon Trees

Hundreds of trees have been to the Moon. How they got there and back again is a curious tale.

August 10, 2002

Coming Soon: Yappy Web Pages

"Veepers is the new "smart character" solution from Pulse. Taking a single 2D photo or other character image and creating a photo-real, 3D "clone" of the original, complete with lip-synching and automated text-to-speech (TTS) functionality, Veepers adds a truly human element to myriad online experiences. Better yet, the process takes less than two minutes, and its simple, click-and-drag interface requires no programming or artistic expertise whatsoever. And since the resulting Veepers are only 60-100k in size, they load quickly onto any page, regardless of client connection speed."

Looks promising, at least for the novelty effect, for educational web pages and games. I'm a little skeptical about the "less than two minutes" and "truly human element" claims. It's also interesting that there are no live examples of these talking headlets on the company web page, at least not yet. The cost, however, is astonishing: $25K to $75K! Someone is going to come up with a much more reasonably priced way to do this. My earlier take on MacHeadroom now looks quaint as I was griping about its $150 pricetag. [via Online Learning Update]

August 09, 2002

Rocky Mountain High

My stint at the University of Southern Colorado went a lot better. It's a small, pleasant campus where everybody knows everybody. You can see mountains in the distance but there are wide open stretches before you get there. Deep blue skies with puffy cumulus clouds that we rarely see in San Diego.

I got up at 5AM to majorly tweak The Joy of Sense-Making and it went much much better. There's more tweaking to do, but it's now passable. The people from SCTEA, the organization putting on this event, were energetic and a little nervous, since this was their first big show. I think they did a great job.

A high point of the trip was spending some time with Pete Billington who is a professor in the business school here. Pete and I were fraternity brothers at Sigma Pi 35 years ago and later roommates before we left Worcester for grad school. He was always a funny guy and that's still his reputation. One of the conference leaders described taking a class from him. Pete kept everyone in rapt attention and feeling accepted, no matter how well prepared for the course they were. He was named by students as one of the top two instructors in his college.

It's great to see someone doing well and enjoying his work so much. I was also glad to see that he's retained his Democratic heart while living in Colorado Springs surrounded by dittoheads.

August 06, 2002

They Got Religion Here

There seemed to be a lot more Godliness afoot during my sweep through East Texas. At the airport, a grandmother was reading the Bible to her 10-ish grandson, and coaching him on how to read it to his younger brother. At the diner where I had a very greasy hash, three patrons and the waitress were talking enthusiastically about how joyful it is to speak out for the Lord. And the radio dial was chock full of religiosity. There were a dozen or so stations with the usual fundamentalist take on things. One talk show sounded a note that I hadn't heard before: Islam is Satanic.

A Catholic AM station, probably leaking in across the border from Louisiana, kept me glued in for an hour while I drove through the dark. The show was about the lives of the saints and this week's episode was about 16 Carmelite nuns who went to the guillotine during the French Revolution. How courageously they took their turn, asking the head nun for permission to die before stepping up to the blade. The hosts of the show bubblingly described an opera by Poulenc which depicts the scene. The chorus of 16 female voices is diminished, one at a time, punctuated by a Whoosh! from the orchestra, until only one voice is left. Then none. A bit like a hundred bottles of beer on the wall.

It's a good thing I didn't know about this music when I was a kid. I can picture myself gathering my friends for a listening session in which we would map the opera onto our own experience at St. Mary's. "OK, next up is Sister Louise DeSalles.", I'd announce. Whoosh!

How I Bombed in East Texas

First time out for this new keynote talk, "The Joy of Sense-Making". For a couple of years now I've had an activity that I built into keynotes that had the audience work together to write a haiku about Mars. For this one, I have them writing a limerick about neurons. It looked good on paper (well, screen, actually) but in practice it didn't pan out. For the audience to have the information it needed about neurons, they had to see the screen clearly and that wasn't in the cards here. The room was too long and the data projector could only squeeze out 800x600. The larger problem, though, was that the presentation was pitched to an audience that knew at least a little about WebQuests and that wasn't the case here.

So this was my pre-Broadway tryout in New Haven. I'd give myself a B-. There were parts that went well, but it needs more work.

August 05, 2002

Off to Texas

The cab driver and I got talking as we headed for the airport and I learned that he came from Somalia ten years ago. What a place! No government to speak of, just thuggish warlords funded by opium sales shooting each other over territory. The driver had 11 kids and a wife and made his way out of there. Three of the kids are in college now and none of them, he was proud to say, ever got into drugs, crime, gangs, or "sagging of their pants". That last thing is a special accomplishment since Somalis are typically so skinny that their pants sag even if they're not trying. It was good to start the day hearing the American Dream playing out again for another generation.

The rest of the day was downhill. The plane from San Diego left an hour late, which meant I missed my connection in Dallas, and the plane from there to Houston was another hour late. Then, on the 90 minute drive through East Texas, I got pulled over twice by the Highway patrol: once for changing lanes too often and once for doing 62 in a 55 zone. No tickets, no blemish on my permanent record. I think they were disappointed to discover I wasn't drunk.

August 04, 2002

Away Again

After a week at home, I'm off to Beaumont, Texas in the morning, and to Pueblo, Colorado the next day. I'm speaking an hour or two away from the airport in both cases, so I should be getting a look at my surroundings for a change as I drive.

In a way, though, I wish I could just stay put. I'm getting up a head of steam on my SQL/PHP self-instruction and I need to put that all aside for the next 4 days. If only I didn't have to sleep....

Another Blogging Bernie

I met Bernie DeKoven when I was in grad school hoping to come up with the Unified Field Theory of Motivation that would explain once and for all how to make anything interesting to anyone. (That task remains unaccomplished, in case you hadn't noticed, at least by me.) At the time of my visit in The Late Disco Era Bernie had just written a book called The Well Played Game and had set up his home in the wilds of Pennsylvania as what he called The Games Preserve. Groups and corporations would contract with him to come out to his barn and play some of the thousands of games he had collected there. He was a fascinating guy and very accommodating to a greenhorn doc student.

Since then he's moved to California and set up shop as a consultant on the topic of Fun. He seems to be doing good and doing well. I just happened upon the blog he's been keeping and actively updating and, like the man himself, it's very interesting. Bernie DeKoven is a deserving candidate to displace me from my perch as the top Bernie on Google.

August 02, 2002

The A-Boy Returns

After four weeks away, we retrieved our son from LA today. From all accounts, his Johns Hopkins CTY class in etymologies was a great experience. He got to experience living in a dorm, meeting other smart kids from all over, and attending a rigorous class. He's memorized a huge card deck of Greek and Latin roots and can now dope out unfamiliar words quickly. What would you call government by women, I asked, looking to see if he'd come up with feminocracy (is that a word?). But since the last week of the class focused on Greek, he unhesitatingly came up with gynarchy (is that a word?). Pretty cool. He had a pretty rich vocabulary before this; now he should be unstoppable. It's great to have found something that Alex liked so well and which seems to be such good preparation for life.

At this point it appears that these classes will be a regular part of our next two summers. Alex wants to return to Loyola Marymount again, and there are other programs on campuses all over the country. When CTY kids hit 16, they become "Nevermores" (sort of like hitting 30 in Logan's Run. There were two Nevermores in Alex's dorm floor this year and they made a point of getting as much out of the experience as they could, like packing everyone in the floor into their room for an overnight.

It's good to have him home again. Once or twice this past month I heard a creak on the stairwell and I turned, expecting Alex to appear saying "Are you hungry?". But it was only our cat or the house settling. Now he's here foraging for snacks and catching up on his email in the den while Star Trek TNG plays in the background. Continuous Partial Attention personified.

So we've had a taste of the semi-empty nest that will come when he goes away to college and we've survived. Good to know that the umbilical cord is this flexible and that he'll back as long as we keep feeding him.


From the Washington Post: Point. Click. Think?. Good piece about the habits of mind that the young are developing when so much information is so readily available. Fellow traveler Jamie McKenzie is quoted, which tells me that they did their homework.