December 30, 2002

Eating Your Own Dog Food (Now with Pineapple!)

WebQuests are the greatest lesson format ever conceived, right? They will eliminate all ignorance in the world within our lifetime, raising up a generation of creative, thoughtful, clear-headed superhumans to take our place. OK, now that we all agree on that, it's time to bring this worldsaving formula into the home as well. To lead the way, I just inflicted HawaiiQuest on my family. Will it turn them into enthusiastic Hawaiianologists who will throw themselves into next week's trip with encyclopedic knowledge of Oahu? Or will they vote me off the island? Tune in next week.


December 26, 2002

Holyland in Ruins

No, not the real one. Today I came on an article describing someone's visit to Holyland USA, the decrepit mini-city built by a single obsessed man back in my home town. Holyland was perched on Pine Hill, a 400 foot high lump that I could see from my bedroom window, and through binoculars I could watch busloads of the devout lining up to get a taste of Bethlehem without the jet lag. Holyland was never well built, and began to fall apart almost immediately after its creator's death in the 80s. By now it's a dangerous debris field with rebar and plywood sticking out everywhere ready to pierce the uncareful walker. Another site contains the disturbing pictures. All is calm, all is bright... not.

For a cheerier set of images, see this wonderful page of QuickTime VR showing Christmas all over the globe.

December 25, 2002

A Simple Christmas

Turns out that it's hard to find a Christmas tree after 4pm on Christmas Eve. Who knew?

We've all been so busy this month that I put this off until beyond the last minute. But we had to have a tree, so forged ahead to any store that was still open. At Lowe's I got a little schefflera just in case I couldn't find anything else. Then next door at IKEA, I got an artificial tree marked down to $10 for some reason along with some Swedish straw decorations to hang on the schefflera. So instead of the usual 7 foot pine, we had two half-trees. Not bad.

Though I was late for tree shopping, I was earlier than usual with present shopping and did most of it online. I got June a tea set and a George Forman grill so that we can cook together and eat home more often. Alex got a lot of books, including the first Riverworld novel, lessons in Esperanto and Hawaiian, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, and the Lord of the Rings 4-DVD set. Alex picked out Minority Report on DVD for me, which I had already bought for him. Some of the books didn't arrive in time for Christmas, but they'll be here soon enough. We got some catnip scented bubble stuff for Pumpkin, who was very blase about it all. We opened most of our presents at June's Mom's place and all four of us went to Baleen for a Christmas feast. All in all, a right-sized, low-stress day.

December 24, 2002

Lazy Day Reading

Interesting things I've come upon today:

I wonder if there'll be any Christmas trees left at the nursery?

December 23, 2002

Awe by the Hour

Just read about Rent-a-scope, a service that will give you control of a telescope in Arizona for $50 per hour. That wouldn't be bad for an evening's entertainment if one went into it well prepared with a list of targets. I don't know how long it takes to slew from one place to another, but it sounds like fun. Maybe we'll have a sky party here some night from the comfort of our den.

It reminds me of the Telescopes In Education (TIE) project, which was created by Gilbert Clark, who I've met several times at the Thacher School summer workshops. Gil noticed an unused telescope going to waste up on Mount Wilson. By hard work and a lot of evangelism, he's created an opportunity for thousands of kids to be exposed to real science. With most people living in cities with light-polluted skies, programs like this are going to become more and more common.

December 22, 2002

The Billboards Are Listening

Are you similar to the other people zooming along the freeway alongside you? Apparently at different times of the day, the tastes of commuters vary. That's true enough that it's making it economically useful to change the content of billboards to better match the drivers who can see it. How do they tell who's who? These High-tech billboards tune in to drivers' tastes by picking up the radio frequencies that leak out of our car radios.

"The system uses a 'consumer monitoring system' developed by Mobiltrak of Chandler, Ariz., to pick up radio waves leaked from the antennas of up to 90 percent of all cars passing by and pinpoint the stations being played. Each station has a typical listener profile derived from detailed consumer surveys. The system will assess the most popular radio station during a given hour and target the ads to those drivers."

Privacy experts aren't worried about this since it doesn't pay attention to individual cars. Yet.

It would be interesting to watch the graph of who's on the road over the course of a day. As I drive the car pool to High Tech High every morning, am I flanked by other listeners of public radio, soft rock, or country? Maybe they should put up a billboard that actually answers that question. "Attention: you are surrounded by Rush Limbaugh listeners. Don't expect anyone to let you into their lane."

December 18, 2002

Atsa My Boy!

Alex learned about Bezier curves in his math/physics class yesterday and came home fired up to do something in Flash to play with them. The end result, which wowed and cowed his classmates today, is an interactive movie in which you can manipulate the four points that define a curve and see what happens.

What a wiz! I'm a proud dad yet again.

December 16, 2002

Zooming Through History

"RealViz today released ImageModeler 3.5 for Mac OS X, which offers an innovative and intuitive approach to creating 3D models. It extracts 3D information from photographs and helps users to measure and recreate accurate 3D models using automatic texturing from photographs.

Be still my heart! This looks like the perfect tool to carry out a longstanding dream of mine: to create a 3-D world that recreates my home town as it was 100 years ago. That's one of the reasons I've been collecting postcards of Waterbury.... and I now have over 200 of them. I've got images of almost every building downtown. ImageModeler lets you take 2-D photographs, trace them to identify the geometric primitives they're made of, grab the textures and create a model. The
case study on the site is amazing. In only 16 hours, one guy took photos of several streets full of buildings in San Francisco and turned them into a video flythrough that looks very very real.

This is very exciting, in spite of the $700 price tag. I guess this dream of mine is sparked by whatever hormone kicks in to turn normal middle aged men into model railroad geeks. Now if only days were 36 hours long, I could get around to actually doing this.

December 15, 2002

Flags, Music, Memories

Dan McDowell sent me the link to Technical Difficulties, a Flash composition that puts in quiet words a lot of what makes me angry these days. Take a look, and pass it on to your friends.

The Technical Difficulties site includes the national anthem in the background, and that reminds me of one of my favorite pieces by my favorite composer. Back in 1974 for the three weeks that I owned a color TV before it got stolen, my roommates and I used to stay up late just to watch WGBH in Boston sign off. They always played Variations on America by Charles Ives, a short clip of which you can hear from this CD.

What made it memorable was that the music was accompanied by wild patterns swooping across the screen thanks to "video synthesis", a wacky analog process that involved feeding a video signal back on itself (like aiming a camera at the monitor) and tweaking and colorizing the wavy noise that resulted. This was long before computers could do such things so the effect was mesmerizing. Today, it would be outclassed by any cheesy screensaver but in the twilight weeks of the Nixon Administration, it was quite a wow. I've got the Ives music on my hard drive now, and whenever I hear it I'm back in Worcester, I'm 26, and the country is purging itself of an outlaw president. I associate the music with legitimate patriotic pride and with New England. Amazing how music triggers memories.

December 14, 2002

My Resident Art Department

I'm going to have to be careful about what I say in front of Alex. He's so quick with PhotoShop that he can whip things up things quicker than I could sketch them on a napkin. We were watching TV a few weeks ago when a Chia Pet commercial came on as part of the annual let's-buy-crap-no-one-needs-to-celebrate-Jesus season. Offhandedly, I wished aloud for a Chia version of our president. Within minutes, he had created an ad for the product of my whim. Now, if only this creative force could be channeled for the good of humanity!

December 11, 2002

Sounds Good to Me

I've always loved wordclever audio like Firesign Theatre and the BBC version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We need more like that to make the world go around more smoothly, I think. Apparently, long ago there was another example of the genre, Ruby Galactic Gumshoe, that escaped my attention until now. The producers sell CD's, but there's a whole lot available for free streaming.

More on Spam and Bayes

Gary Robinson maintains a blog on Spam Detection and has some quibbles about the approach used in SpamSieve. It seems to work for me very well, but obviously Robinson has done his homework. He also runs a wiki-based clearinghouse for spam information: Interesting stuff.

December 10, 2002

Fighting Back at Spam with Bayesian Analysis

For any Mac users reading this, drop what you're doing and go order SpamSieve. It has made e-mail an order of magnitude less onerous for me. SpamSieve looks at your mail as it comes in and uses Bayesian analysis of word counts to tell whether it's naughty or nice depending on samples you give it. Open up a "Make Money Now!" letter, type command-control-S and it's identified as spam. Do a command-control-G for good mail, and the software begins to learn to differentiate them. It took me fifteen minutes to give it enough to go on, and since that time SpamSieve has been acting like Maxwell's Demon in sorting my mail into spam and non-spam.

In the 20 days I've been using SpamSieve, I've gotten 1175 spam messages! Now, at least, they're tucked out of site and I'm less compelled to read them.

Just this morning, though, I got a note saying that I could lose 35 pounds by Christmas... 15 days from now. A few minutes later I got a note promising that I could add 3 inches to my manhood in one month. I'm thinking that these two products must conflict with each other at some deep level... like combining matter and anti-matter, and that a messy explosion would result if one were to take them both. Would anyone like to test my theory?

December 07, 2002

Blogging a Revolution

Some say that blogging by ordinary people is going to provide some real competition for professional journalists, or that it will provide a new medium for journalists that bypasses the usual editors. A good example of one or the other of these is The Devil's Excrement, a blog by Miguel Octavio. I can't tell if he's a professional journalist or just a politically engaged Venuzuelan, but he's writing first hand accounts of the demonstations, shootings, and strikes that are now the norm in that country. This will be interesting, and sobering, to follow.

"Two nights ago, an amateur caught the Mayor of the Libertador district, a Chavez supporter, arriving at 2:17 AM at the PDVSA headquarters, when guns were being moved around. The Mayor denied he had been there, only to change his story when he was shown the the video. Well, Globovision, the TV station, is now showing the frame from the video, together with the picture of the assasin who confessed shooting at the people tonight. Do you believe in coincidences?"

December 05, 2002

Amazing Maps

This afternoon I attended a session on Tapped In providing a whirlwind tour of the Library of Congress Map Collections. What a resource for teachers or map lovers! Leni Donlan, who was an early WebQuest fan and a longtime creator of great curriculum, led us at a breakneck pace through the collection.

"The focus of Map Collections is Americana and Cartographic Treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases and, in general, are restricted to items that are not covered by copyright protection."

So these are images you can have your way with without worrying about lawyers. There are maps dating back to the earliest exploration of America at all levels of detail. The site includes MrSID, a tool for zooming in and navigating around maps. I found a map of Waterbury, Connecticut from 1899 and was able to zoom in on the block I grew up on. The first tree in the center of this picture is where our crappy 6 family apartment building was built a few years later. The Scovill factory is right across the street... now replaced by a huge shopping mall.

Anyway... next semester I'm going to work this site into EDTEC 570 and try to get some great WebQuests written around it.

December 04, 2002

Newmedia Genius

This is probably old news to the cyberliterati, but tonight I went to Ze Frank's page for the first time. Unbelievable creativity using Flash & Quicktime! There's a degree of art and cleverness here that you don't see very often, and it makes a lot of other pages look like mere tech-skill displays. I found my way to the page by way of an interview with Ze Frank that shouldn't be missed. He describes sending one of his first efforts, an interactive dance lesson, out to 17 friends and watching it mushroom to a million hits a day. Don't miss the cat film. We need more of this sensibility in the design of learning environments.

[via MetaFilter]

The Psychology of Cyberspace

Wow! Just came across this online hypertext book by John Suler, Ph.D. Looks like a tremendous resource for some future course. He describes its purpose as the exploration of

" ... the psychological dimensions of environments created by computers and online networks. It is intended as an evolving conceptual framework for understanding the various psychological components of cyberspace and how people react to and behave within it. This framework is the basis for my ongoing research on what I call "the psychology of cyberspace" - or simply "cyberpsychology." I hope it will serve as a useful framework for other researchers as well. Continually being revised and expanded, this hypertext book originally was created in January of 1996."

December 03, 2002

A Truly World Wide Marketplace

The web continues to amaze me. I just dashed home in time to do a last minute bid on E-Bay for something that caught my eye a few days ago: a 1790 engraving of an imagined scene in Sierra Leone. It was originally published in London and was just sold by someone in Cyprus. I got it for $10.50 from the comfort of the couch in my den! Pretty amazing price for something more than two centuries old. It would be interesting to know what path this picture has taken over all that time and where it will go from here. Guess I'll have to wait for Merck to come up with an omniscience pill.

December 01, 2002

Current Events from a Biblical Perspective

I'll be adding Bible Doctrine News to my list of sites to check regularly. If you're tired of CNN's world view, you can't beat this as an alternative interpretation. Larry Wood, a retired NASA engineer and pastor, has developed a scheme for making sense of the world in his daily reports on "battles in Spiritual Warfare as they pop up on the World Stage". Here, for example, is what was really happening on November 29:

"NASA held a change of command ceremony as the Expedition 6 crew took over the Space Station from the Expedition 5 crew. This is significant because the curse of Baal was associated with the Expedition 5 command, where 5 stands for the giant, Baal. Yesterday's bee swarm in Los Angeles was a curse of a cosmic stronghold related to the terrorist attacks on Israel. Bees represent male rapists, which correspond to a breakdown in Marriage Culture. A swarm represents the cosmic stronghold of an invading army."

Well, of course it does! Updated daily. [via the Psychoceramics list]