April 30, 2003


Had lunch yesterday with two colleagues, one who retired three years ago, the other who's probably less than five years away from it. Among lots of other things, we talked about the difficulties faced by people who retire without any hobbies lying in wait ready to take up the slack. My retired friend hasn't had that problem, and I don't think I will either (ten years from now), as I've got enough projects in mind to keep me happily engaged for another half century.

If I run out of old projects, though, making things like THIS looks like fun. After decades of slinging pixels, it might be good to rearrange atoms for awhile.

In the interim, maybe I'll just buy one. [via Boing Boing]


April 27, 2003

Zooming Through Portland

Spent parts of Thursday and Friday in Portland for five hours on stage at the Northwest Council for Computing Education. It was my second quick trip there, and now I've spent a total of 48 hours in Oregon. Seemed like a very liveable city: good food, beautiful rivers and bridges, courteous, positive people, and a light rail system that took me all the way back to the airport for $1.55. Hope to spend more time there someday.

In the dead time between my two Friday sessions, I wandered through the vendor area and saw nothing new except Mediator 7 which collected quite a crowd of paying customers. What does it do? It claims to let you create interactive presentations in a jiffy and export them as DHTML or Flash for CDROM or web delivery. Just what I need to get EDTEC 570 ready for going online over the next three weeks. Unfortunately it's Windows only, but I'm willing to stoop in order to get the job done. The box should arrive Wednesday. We'll see!


April 26, 2003

Putting a Human Face on Computing

What can one say about this?

Or this?

Or this?

So many clever people out there.


April 23, 2003

The Mathematics of Marriage

Interesting article in The Chronicle.

"John M. Gottman and his colleagues have developed "influence functions" to illustrate how the partners in various types of couples influence each other's moods over the course of a difficult conversation. The horizontal axis represents a range of verbal and facial expressions -- from highly critical and contemptuous (on the left) to highly supportive and affectionate (on the right)."

Rings true to me, and it's comforting to see that the model predicts that conflict-avoiding marriages tend to be long and stable. I wonder if this would make a good project for my Simulation and Games class next fall?


April 12, 2003

XML + History = HEML

Cool stuff! The Historical Event Markup and Linking Project is developing XML schema for describing events, locations, etc. It gives you multiple ways to store and display the unfolding of history.

Around ten years ago some teachers and I wrote a proposal to Apple (never funded) for something called The Boswell Project. We were going to build a tool for kids to analyze the lives of individuals as a way to study history. It was going to be HyperCard-based and the resulting files would be shared and compared clunkily by putting them on a local fileserver. Nowadays, HEML would be the way to go and the sharing would be transparent and instantly global. Wish I had time to play with this. [Via Ed Tech Dev]


Personality Identification Cards

By now you've probably seen the decks of cards they're giving to the troops to help them identify Iraq's most wanted former bigwigs.

I'm sure a zillion spoofs of those cards will be appearing all over cyberspace any minute now, and, with a free hour on a lazy Saturday morning, I couldn't help making one myself. These
American Personality Identification Cards are designed to help you spot the neocons and spleenmongers who have dragged us into this mess. By the next election and by displacing them on the media with new faces, may we soon make them former bigwigs themselves.

April 11, 2003

Personal Respiratory Defense Systems on Sale

Is it just me, or does it seem just a little creepy that you can buy gas masks now at Fry's? Are things going askew so gradually that we can accept living in perpetual alert status without getting worked up about it?

It reminds me a bit of The Sheep Look Up, the classic John Brunner novel in which the environment degrades slowly and commercial bandaids like oxygen vending machines and birth defect insurance step in to smooth over the symptoms without addressing the root cause.

April 10, 2003

Where Am I?

That's one of life's enduring questions, especially for the disoriented. Thanks to IndyJunior, a tool that combines Flash and XML, I now have created an answer to the question for myself on a new page called Where's Bernie?.

Now that I've played some with XML, I'm eager to apply it to other things like lesson planning and adventure games. Stay tuned.


April 09, 2003

A Bit of Dark SARS Humor

From the The Smoking Gun:
"In an exquisite example of unfortunate timing, as the SARS epidemic rages in the Pacific Rim, magazine advertisements placed by the Hong Kong Tourism Board promote the city as a vacation destination that "will take your breath away." The half-page ad is appearing this month in a variety of British publications, including Cosmopolitan (which is where TSG found the below ad, placed prominently on page six of the fashion mag's April edition). Shortness of breath is one of the principal symptoms of severe acute respiratory illness, or SARS. The illness, which apparently began in China and then moved to Hong Kong, has resulted in about 100 deaths and more than 3000 cases worldwide. The tourism ad campaign was planned before the SARS outbreak and print ads could not be yanked in time."

April 07, 2003

Rage, Hubris, and Regime Change

This article by Ken Jowitt in Policy Review, articulates some well-informed skepticism that sounds right to me. The remarkable thing is that this is a conservative writing. How often do I sing in their choir?

Third, and most important, the attempt to impose democracy in Iraq and the Middle East has all the unreality of Don Quixote. The truth is that an invasion and occupation of Iraq with the pronounced intent of imposing democracy will more likely be a poison dart with a boomerang effect than a magic bullet with a democratic domino effect in the region. For decades, the Iraqi middle classes have been forced to act like supplicants towards those who rule them with arbitrary power. Their servility has undoubtedly produced a psychology and culture that emphasize avoidance and distrust of political life. In no way do the Iraqi middle classes resemble the proto-liberal capitalist classes of seventeenth-century Western Europe with their preferences for, and understanding of, a legally framed market economy and individual autonomy. As for Iraqi society in general, it is fragmented into hostile tribes and clans based on kinship, religion, and ethnicity. In such an environment, creating civility will require Promethean effort. Creating a civil society and democratic government will take a miracle.

April 06, 2003

Swarming: The Next Big Thing?

Surfing as a social activity? In a way, it's already happening in slow motion. Someone finds an interesting site and emails the URL to friends or blogs about it. Doing this in realtime is the obvious next step and technically I don't think it's very hard. The challenge will be to create a critical mass around a common way to do it, and that will take someone with a good eye for interface and skill at social design.

Eyebees, a Dutch start-up, has released a beta of software that allows people to surf the web together. You can play follow-the-leader, take people on tours, and message each other about what you're seeing.

I think this is an idea with legs, and that we'll see a wave of imitators coming very quickly (hopefully cross-platform and perhaps open source). If swarming takes off, it might well build on and reinforce the Smart Mobs and Second Superpower memes. The second-order ripples of the web continue to amaze.


The Reason Why

Good piece by George McGovern in The Nation.

The President and his team, building on the trauma of 9/11, have falsely linked Saddam Hussein's Iraq to that tragedy and then falsely built him up as a deadly threat to America and to world peace. These falsehoods are rejected by the UN and nearly all of the world's people. We will, of course, win the war with Iraq. But what of the question raised in the Bible that both George Bush and I read: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul," or the soul of his nation?

April 05, 2003

WebQuests and the Holocaust

For the last three days we've had 170 teachers on campus for a workshop on teaching about the holocaust sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC.

My part was to whip up a session on WebQuests and the Holocaust. It includes a new version of the WebQuest about WebQuests and the world premier of Refuge Denied, a WebQuest about the voyage of the SS St. Louis in 1939 written by Karla Bell, one of my advisees. We had five labs going, with the other four being run by a platoon of present and former EDTEC students. All went well. A very satisfying day!


April 04, 2003

Sinographizing Your Name

Just happened on the site of Nana Lau, a starving artist who has translated a zillion gringo names somehow into their Chinese calligraphic equivalents. I think that's cool enough that I dropped her a little PayPal donation. This might be an engaging addition to a WebQuest about China, or about language.

I've seen people who will do this for you on a t-shirt in Chinatown in San Francisco or New York and it occurred to me that if they thought you were a jerk they could easily crank out a shirt for you that says "I suck!". Unless you've got Chinese friends, you might never find out, and might wonder about the titters you get while wearing it proudly around Beijing.


April 02, 2003


Just noticed that the odometer on the WebQuest Page turned past 4 Million some time today. Not bad for a site with a staff of 1 and a budget of 0. We're getting 7-8,000 hits each weekday now. I'm guessing that once the new portal is in place, that will go up dramatically.


Celebrity Blogs

It's interesting to come upon blogs written personally by famous people. The first one I started to read was Wil Wheaton's, and it's clearly from the heart and not the product of some PR firm. Also genuine (I think) are the blogs by Moby and Dave Barry.

Vanessa Dennen just sent me the link to an even more famous blogger: Kim Jong Il! Reading this regularly is a great way to gain insight into the mind of an important world figure.

(I should have posted this yesterday.)

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April 01, 2003

'Tis the Season

I was mulling over the idea of posting some kind of hoax today, just as JediMike has done, but a glance at the Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time convinced me that the competition was just too tough. How can you beat these? I personally remember being taken in by Hoax Number 5 in 1992, at least for a few minutes.