November 30, 2002

Triumphal Return to Geocaching

Another lunch out, another stab at geocaching. The post storm skies were brilliant blue and filled with cumulus clouds, so the prospect of falling (2 feet) to our doom into Alvarado Creek seemed less daunting. It took no time at all to return to the former rat box at Cache GC4426, sign the log book and claim our prize: a small plastic emu. We'll keep that as a trophy, like framing the first dollar taken in at a restaurant. To restore balance to the universe, we left behind a 2 Kroner coin from our trip last year to Copenhagen.

Continuing the saga, we went on to Cache GC6686: Crystal Tower Cache which consisted of a Parmesan Cheese container hidden under a pile of rocks at the top of the hill that we see from our front yard. Yes, this is high adventure... traipsing through fields within view of our weedbeds.

This is a cool thing. It gets us out away from our keyboards but the technology connection keeps it interesting to all of us.

Brits Release UFO Documents: Film at 11

So when I heard that the UK was going to release its X-Files on the Rendlesham sighting from 1980, I got all aflutter. I'd vaguely remembered it as a pretty good case and CNN's report made it sound like this was finally The Smoking Gun.

Then the cooler part of my mind prevailed and I looked up this and
this and this. Crash go the saucers again.

I want to believe, but not really.

November 29, 2002

Our First Geocaching Adventure

I've been interested in geocaching for close to two years now, and today we finally got around to trying it. After a trip to D. Z. Akins for lunch, June, Alex & I stopped to search for Cache: (GC4426) Alvarado Crossing by Rob. With Alex holding the GPS receiver and me reading the coordinates, we zeroed in on an area under a bridge over Alvarado Creek. At that moment, it started pouring rain, so every step we took began to seem treacherous. June got adventurous and probed further under the bridge than either of us until she saw a rat trap... which put us all instantly into let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here mode™. As we ran back to the car through buckets of rain, it gradually dawned on us that putting a rat trap out in the wilderness makes no sense at all, and that what she saw was the actual cache. Too wet to go back, we drove home with our geocaching virginity intact.

We shall return!

November 18, 2002

The Guts of the Forthcoming WebQuest Portal

What perfect timing! I've started to gather information about PHP/SQL packages to support the next leap forward for the WebQuest page. Just last week, the Internet Scout Report people rolled out the Scout Portal Toolkit! I think it's just what I was looking for. Here are the features:

"For a resource portal site to be worthwhile it has to provide significant functionality for the average user looking to locate or learn about valuable online resources. The Portal Toolkit provides a number of site features intended to meet this need.

Cross-Field Searching - A wide variety of metadata may be used to describe a resource. This feature allows users to search across all appropriate fields for a given set of keywords, or to search for resources that only contain (or do not contain) specific terms in specific fields.

Resource Annotations by Users - Portal users can add their own comments about an individual resource. This facility adds value to the resource entries and encourages interaction within the user community. It also allows portal developers to leverage off of their user community to increase the value of the collection, benefitting all concerned.

Intelligent User Agents - This feature allows portal users to specify a set of criteria for resources that fit their interests and then be automatically notified when new resources become available that fit that criteria.

Resource Quality Ratings by Users - This provides a systematic means through which users can share their evaluations of resources, allowing other users to view the resources with the highest rankings. In addition, through this mechanism portal developers can gather aggregate feedback on the resource entries or areas within their collection and resource developers can better assess the strong points of their work and how it compares to other similar resources within their discipline.

Suggested Resource Referrals (Recommender System) - By evaluating ratings and other information entered by users, this feature allows the portal to recommend other resources that may be of interest to a user.

Hot damn!

Ants Invade iBook!

From Slashdot:

"Has anyone had this problem? I hope not . . . After the first rain of the year, the ants outside were restless (and homeless). My wife had left her ibook on the mantle charging overnight. The next morning we noticed a large number of ants milling around it. Upon inspection we discovered ants crawling in and out of every hole in the computer. I grabbed my can of compressed air and started blowing! To my horror hundreds of ants started pouring out carrying eggs!"

This has generated over 500 replies on Slashdot, 450 of them being lame jokes about buggy software. The rest, though, discussed the mysterious attraction that electricity has to ants. Alex did a research paper about this a year ago and dug up information from Texas Tech about fire ants and the havoc they wreak on transformers in the Southwest.

I can add my own datapoint to this topic, and it pre-dates laptops by several decades. Back in my Peace Corps years in Sierra Leone, I was lucky to have electricity in my house. The light switches were these plastic enclosures that were bowl-shaped, kind of like an old-fashioned doorbell. Every month or so, the lights would start to flicker and we'd hear a crackling sound coming from the switch. It became a routine chore whenever this happened to unscrew the switch and empty it out. What was it filled with? Thousands of ants, some still twitching, that had packed themselves into the switch until it started to short out. We'd whack the switch cover onto the ground outside and out would pop a single solid bowl-shaped block of highly concentrated anthood.

If this ever happens to my PowerBook, I think I'll use some other non-whacking strategy to clean it out.

November 17, 2002

Keeping Old Friends

Yesterday was the annual Technology Fair held by San Diego CUE. Attendance was less than 200, I'm guessing, but it was a great place to be. I don't go to this expecting to hear anything new but to catch up on the lives of people I've known since I came to San Diego. It's funny how loyal we all are to the organization after all these years, a bond forged by working hard together to put on countless conferences and events. Got to chat with Al Rogers and Yvonne Andres who I normally bump into thousands of miles from home, and hear the latest about Global Schoolhouse.

Also spent time with Bill and Debbie Simpson (pictured above with Pam Howard) who retold the story of the night in 1988 when they were out to dinner with June and her water broke. Since I was stranded in Fresno for the night, they were the ones who drove her to the hospital. Got hugs from teachers who participated in the Patterns Project, too, a shared adventure we all look back at fondly. Whoever still thinks technology has to be dehumanizing hasn't been paying attention.

What's that Girl Scout song? Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver, the other gold.

November 15, 2002

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest

According to Smartest State 2002-2003, my life has been in a downward spiral from the start.

"METHODOLOGY--The Smartest State designation is awarded based on 21 factors chosen from Morgan Quitno’s new annual reference book, Education State Rankings, 2002-2003. These factors reflect a strong commitment to students and teachers, an emphasis on excellence in the classroom and support of safe, well-run public schools."

I was born in Connecticut (#1), went to college and worked in Massachusetts (#7), to grad school in New York (#26) and spent the last 22 years in California (#29). At least my fall is decelerating. At this pace, I should be be hailing my Maker from Oklahoma.

Or maybe my cosmic purpose in life is to nudge my adopted state to the #1 spot. Works for me.

Teaching for Wisdom

From Education Week comes an article by Robert Sternberg, one of my favorite educational psychologists. It gives order to some fuzzy thoughts I've been having lately.

"The road to teaching for wisdom is bound to be a rocky one. First, entrenched educational structures, whatever they may be, are difficult to change. Wisdom is not taught in schools. In general, it is not even discussed."

True enough. I remember that David McClelland did some work on teaching for wisdom long ago. Sternberg's at Yale and McClelland was at Harvard, and the latter got interested in this topic by contemplating the worth of a liberal arts education. The only trace of McClelland's work I can find on the web is his 1981 book New Case for Liberal Arts. As for Sternberg, here's a description of his grant studying wisdom. I also came upon an interesting overview of wisdom from a conference in the UK.

This would be an interesting new direction to take with WebQuests, I think. It would be a lot heavier on the quest part and only incidentally about the web. Hmmm.

November 14, 2002

A4 Paper: Proof of God's Heavy Hand in Everything

From the Psychoceramics list, here's a new wacko in the spirit of the Bible Code.

The Postscript: "At the time of writing the A-series of cut paper sizes (defined by ISO 216) is a familiar accompaniment to life in most countries and promises soon to be accepted universally as a truly _international_ standard. Its principal representative, A4, has metric dimensions that reveal a remarkable affinity with significant features occurring in the texts of both Genesis and Revelation - the first and last of the Bible's Books. Further, even the sequence number of the standard, viz 216, is found to be closely involved in these relationships. Such intriguing matters form the basis of the current paper and the question is asked: How is it possible that fragments of ancient writings should map so precisely onto an artefact that was not to appear on the world's stage until some two or three millennia later?"

So those annoying unAmerican sheets of paper that refuse to fit in your binders and file folders are all part of God's Mysterious Plan™. Now we know.

But seriously: aren't you glad that the 1950s version of the future with lots of leisure time never happened? Imagine if we had a world in which everyone only had to work 10 hours a week. With all that time on their hands, millions of bozos and bozas would be coming up with theories like this and publishing them globally. We'd never get anything done.

November 13, 2002

GPS and Interactive Art

"Imagine walking through the city and triggering moments in time. Imagine wandering through a space inhabited with the sonic ghosts of another era. Like ether, the air around you pulses with spirits, voices, and sounds. Streets, buildings, and hidden fragments tell a story. The setting is the Freight Depot in downtown Los Angeles. At the turn of the century Railroads were synonymous with power, speed and modernization. Railroads were our first cross-country infrastructure, preceding the telegraph and the Internet. From the history and myth of the Railroad to the present day, sounds and voices drift in and out as you walk.

"34 North 118 West plays through a Tablet PC with Global Positioning System device and headphones provided onsite (see website for hours). GPS tracks your location and determine how the story is delivered. The landscape becomes the interface. Every version is rendered in real-time, according to your pattern of movement."

Verrry interesting. I've been thinking about new ways to incorporate GPS with education in the form of field trips, role playing games, etc. This sounds like an inspiring example to learn from. [from boing boing]

November 09, 2002

Dr. Clue Scouts San Diego

One of the participants in a session I attended at NASAGA was Dr. Clue, otherwise known as David Blum. He's created a company that designs Team Building Treasure Hunts

"Ok, admit it. Ever since you were a kid, you've always loved treasure hunts. And now, as "an adult," you're charged with hunting up a fresh, new, business-focused team building activity for your corporate group. Your quest, at last, is over! Treasure hunt master Dr. Clue is the national leader for customized, team building treasure hunts. Always convenient to your office or meeting, our off-site hunt events take place in America's most exciting neighborhoods, museums and theme parks."

That sounds like great fun to me. While down for NASAGA, he was looking around San Diego for some good locations for a new treasure hunt. Someone suggested Seaport Village but I hope saner minds prevail. Downtown or Balboa Park would be a lot more content-crunchy.

Maybe next year I'll offer treasure hunt design as an optional alternative to the board game project.


The NASAGA conference finished up here in town today. I had to miss most of it but I got to spend three hours watching Thiagi, a personal hero, in action. As a workshop leader he's mastered all the moves and makes everything look effortless. He validated a lot of what I thought I knew but got me revved up to improve my next round of workshops in the Spring. A cool guy.

Those who attended the whole conference seemed happy as clams, but I kept wondering why the organization is so small. I'm guessing that there were no more than 120 people here. There were only four sessions for each time slot with at least one of them devoted to improv... something so far from my style that I couldn't even fake being interested. I'm guessing that the organization used to be much larger. Why the shrinkage? Surely simulations and games in education are still hot as teaching devices, perhaps even hotter than ever. For whatever reason, NASAGA seems rooted in the interpersonal exercises that were all the rage in the 70s and is arriving late to the e-learning, multimedia, etc., realm. They had a strand on that but it seemed a bit lame.

Still, it was good to see as much as I saw there. I also dropped a wad of money at the vendor display (which consisted of a single 12 foot table next to registration). Lots of books I hadn't seen before. I haven't read them yet, but here's my haul:

cover cover cover
cover cover cover

Should make for some fun rainy season reading.

November 08, 2002

Deskilling Taps

Pentagon to test digital audio device to `play' taps at military funerals
The Pentagon, chronically short of musicians to play taps at military funerals, is going to test the use of a new "push button" bugle that can be operated by an honor guard member. A small digital audio device inserted into the bell of the bugle plays a rendition of taps that the Pentagon says is "virtually indistinguishable" from a live bugler. The person using the bugle merely pushes a button and holds the bugle to his or her lips. [thanks to Follow Me Here]

Some sci-fi story I read long ago included robo-priests that heard confessions, something that evolved as a response to a shortage of real priests. What highly skilled performance is next to be replaced by gadgetry? Teaching? Nah.

1.2 Billion Spammers

So the 16th Party Congress is meeting in Beijing to set policy for the next few decades, the core of which involves enshrining capitalism as A Good Thing™. This, I think, will affect life for the rest of my days, starting today. With wondrous synchronicity, this morning's mail brought me this:

Dear Sir,

How are you doing? I saw your information on the your web site and our main products is Sodium citrate and Calcium Citrate,Potassium citrate,Sodium DL-malate ,Kojic acid, Itaconic acid, etc..It's best, in China, either the quality or the pricing or the annual output and after service and I have a lot of confidence to my product. If you are interesting to them, you can find all the detailed things from our web site ( or fell free to mail me or fax me. Please do not hesitate to contact me, if you have any questions or enquiry. I hope we could have the further cooperation and hope our product is your need.

My English is not good enough,I wish do not give you any troble.

Waiting for your prompt reply. Wish you a good day!

Best regards!

Chuanyong Song
Shandong Zhongshun Sci.& Tech. Development Co,. Ltd.

This is just the beginning. The fact that there is nothing in any of my web sites to indicate my need for potassium citrate won't stop them. I'll soon be getting solicitations, no doubt, for iron ingots, tea caddies, plastic valves, and small stuffed animals. Actually, I've already gotten all of those, some of them completely in Chinese. It's a nice break from all the letters from Nigeria and offers to increase the size of my manhood.

But think of adding all those hard working entrepreneurial Chinese to the mix. E-mail is going to collapse under the load. We'll all need unlisted addresses.

November 05, 2002

Dentistry, Up Close and Personal

There was a new hygienist at the dentist's office today as I came in for cleaning, young and fresh out of school. The dentist himself is pretty new, too, and open to breaking beyond the usual as he grows his practice. I wasn't prepared, though, for the conversation that started as I settled into the chair.

Joy (Hygienist), holding clipboard: Have you and Dr. Adair had a chance to develop a set of long term goals for your dental health?

Me: Hm?

Joy: Do you have a long term plan for your teeth?

Me: Umm.... no, I just come in for maintenance. We haven't talked about a longterm relationship.

Joy (frustrated that she's not able to fill in that blank, trying another tack): Where would you like to see your teeth in 20 or 30 years?

Me: Still with me?

Joy hands me a mirror and directs me to smile at myself.

Joy: Is there anything you'd like to do to improve your smile?

Me: Embed it in a better looking face.

As this went on, I kept wondering to myself why it sounded so weird. In retrospect it seems that Joy has a different vision of the patient-dentist relationship. For her (with her starry-eyed fresh-out-of-schoolness) it's a partnership in which the dentist consults with me to meet my well articulated and heartfelt dental needs as we work together to make my mouth a fabulous place to be. For me, it's a routine necessity like tire rotation which I neglect with similar aplomb. I don't want to have a relationship with the dentist or his fleet of helpers, or even talk much with them. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get her to drop the clipboard and see the world my way.

Oh well. At least he's a good dentist.

November 04, 2002

Farflung WebQuesting

I've been getting mail from other countries over the years from educators who are fans of WebQuests and are doing what they can to evangelize about them. There's lots going on in Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and Israel. But over the weekend I heard from the most exotic locale yet: Tiznit, Morocco. A math educator there is holding a workshop today on WebQuests!

I looked up Tiznit and it's about as far off the beaten path as the web goes these days. Salmon colored houses, iron doors painted blue, and mosques that look like the ones I saw in Mali. Cooler still, it's just a few hours away from Ifni, a former Spanish enclave on the Atlantic coast. I remember daydreaming as a kid as I added postage stamps from Ifni to my collection. So faraway and foreign... and now they've got WebQuests. How much smaller can the world get?

November 03, 2002

Will We Actually Send Out Christmas Cards This Year?

Maybe! It's been years since we managed to send any out, and the number of cards we get every year is monotonically decreasing as a result. Personally, my energy level drops every year starting about now and is painfully low at about the time that most people are sending out cards. It's not going to happen around here unless it gets to be a lot less tedious.

So I was happy to read on BackUp Brain about the U. S. Postal Service's NetPost CardStore which will print and send out your cards for about $2 a pop. There are zillions of ready-made cards to choose from, or you can upload graphics to make your own. Being addicted to doing things the hard way, that's the way I'd go. Maybe I can enlist the help of our 14 year old resident PhotoShop wizard to turn a family photo into something cartoonlike. (Or maybe I'll spend the first week of December staring at a growing pile of projects to grade and aimlessly surfing the web as usual.)

I Want My HTV

Interesting piece in Technology Review about Holograms in Motion, work in progress that may bring 3-D TV to us sometime in the near future. Lots more work is needed, along with a lot of Moore's Law doublings to process the images. Still, it's something to look forward to.

November 02, 2002

The Microsoft Non-Decision

Dan Gillmore says it well in Microsoft: Freedom to Dominate.

"Microsoft, serial corporate lawbreaker, is getting away with it. Competition took a hit on Friday. So did the usefulness of antitrust law.And so did innovation, which is the worst loss of all."

I still have hopes that the Open Source movement will continue to grow and give us some choices. Not at the desktop level, of course. That battle was lost long ago and Apple isn't going to be able to undo it. But as everything important moves to the net, there's still hope that the non-Microsoft offerings will get better and better. We'll see.