May 22, 2003

Back from Wisconsin

Just got back from a little luncheon talk at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. I met some very cool faculty and students. They'd just finished creating a WebQuest that teased apart the concept of Patriotism and were doing it just as the Iraq war began. It was part of a larger project with three other UW campuses and clearly the kids learned all the right stuff: taking on perspectives other than their own and learning to appreciate while disagreeing; divvying up the work of creating curriculum; keeping it at the level of analysis and synthesis. It makes me optimistic about the future when I see new teachers thinking this way with such enthusiasm.

Something uniquely Wisconsinish: at lunch the servers gave us a choice of iced tea or milk. MILK?! Later when I mentioned this to the faculty, they didn't think it was all that uncommon. Life in the dairy state!

The city of Oshkosh is divided fairly equally by the Fox River. Penny Garcia, my host, told me that Oshkosh was actually founded as two cities that became one. Wow, I thought, Osh and Kosh, just like Buda and Pest... but that would be too good to be true. Turns out the two halves were named "Athens" and "Brooklyn" so naturally they named the combined city after a local Native American Chief.

Wisconsin seems like a pretty place this time of year. The lilacs, my favorite plant in all the world, were blooming everywhere and filling the air with that sweetness. Today before heading to Green Bay to fly out, I drove around some back roads trying to get a sense of the place. I stumbled on a big place off the side of Rt. 110 that had giant mooses, statues of liberty, other amazing kitsch, all for sale. I've never seen anyplace like it.

Pictures of all that and more are here.

Only 6 more states to go: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota and Arkansas. Time to start keeping track of Canadian Provinces I've been to!


May 17, 2003

Recent Finds

This might be fun. Personality Forge lets you program a bot and turn it loose talking to other members of the site. I'm guessing that part of the fun is figuring out when you're chatting with a bot and when you're not. I spoke a bit with one and it was in no danger of aceing the Turing Test, but I suppose these things are still in their infancy. Here's a portion of the FAQ:

How Do I Create a Bot?
Click the "New Bot" link above, and fill in the Bot's fictional information. Once it shows up above, go to its Language Center to work on it. And read the Book of AI to learn how it all works.

Do I Log In As My Bot?
No, do not log in as your Bot. Always log in with the account you first created. You will work on all your Bots from this, your main account.

When Will My Bot Log In?
Newborn Bots do not log in. They will only talk with you, their Maker. As you add Keywords, Contexts, and Responses, your Bot will gain development levels and will log in more and more often. The logins and logouts take place randomly throughout the day.

When Will My Bot Chat?
Your Bot will chat when they are logged in and either a) you are logged in, or b) the Maker of another Bot is logged in. That is because it takes an active browser to host the chat.

What Happens When I'm Not Here?
Your Bot, if developed enough, will log on and chat with users and other bots, forming relationships and memories that you can watch by clicking the "Inner Life" link. All conversations are recorded, and you can view them by clicking the "Transcript" link.

Flowing Toward Competence
From eLearn Magazine, Sandra C. Ceraulo's article Instructional Design for Flow in Online Learning lays out seven rules for creating an environment in which learners are in the Zone. Nice clear explanation of the concept. I think I disagree, though, with the notion that Flow is the optimal state for learning. I think it's useful to get people beyond their comfort zone and then help them learn their way back to serenity. A little pain never hurt anyone.

Where to Live?
Finally, Turn Left has a list of Liberal Friendly and Unfriendly Places, a list that would be far handier if I was in the mood to move away from paradise. San Diego is on the liberal-hostile side of the ledger, though their description of my adopted hometown was from several elections ago and it's not all that bad. Portland Oregon, which impressed me a few weeks ago, was on the good list.


May 16, 2003

Alberta and Back

Life continues. The rest of my trip to speak at the ATACC conference went well. Lots of WebQuest fans there, and the design patterns idea was clearly a hit. It snowed while I was there, and on the way back down from Jasper I had to stop twice to let a herd of moose or elk or goats or something take their time wandering across the road.

More pictures available here.

The next morning in Edmonton, I was generously taken to brunch and interesting conversation by Pete MacKay, creator of the very cool Teacher List. For years he's been sending out one link a day that teachers would find interesting. I'm always learning about great pages from Pete's list and it's well worth signing up for even if you're trying to trim back your in-box.


May 02, 2003

Pumpkin Dodge, 1996 - 2003

This afternoon, the sweetest cat I've ever known left a very sad family behind.


May 01, 2003

Long Day's Journey into Canada

An endless and interesting day began with my carpooling Alex and the two Jeffs to High Tech High, then on to the airport. I managed to sit directly in front of the screamingist baby ever to lift off. Two hours of non-stop primal yelping. As soon as we hit the ground, every guy under 30 opened up his cell phone and called to make a vasectomy appointment.

They've added wireless net access to the airport in Seattle, just in time for my 2 hour layover and a great lunch of beer and Dungeness crab while answering email. Then on to the flight to Edmonton. No screaming babies. Canadian civility and calm filled the plane, and something rare (for me) happened: I got talking with my seatmate. Her name is Martha Kent, same as Superman's mom in Smallville, and she's a neuropsychologist in Phoenix. She's going to the University of Alberta to do a presentation based on her autobiography describing her childhood in post-war Europe. As ethnic Germans living in Poland, her family experienced the largest scale ethnic cleansing of the last century, something I'd never been aware of before. From 1945 to 1949, they lived in concentration camps until finally being allowed to enter East Germany, bribe their way into West Germany, and finally settle in Canada. Now she works with Vietnam-era veterans and tries to get them to recreate her trick of turning a traumatic past into a new, positive life. We had a great chat. Especially the Bush-bashing part.

Jasper is a five hour drive west of Edmonton. Mostly flat with scattered forests until the last hour or so. Then the Rockies appear on the horizon slowly getting larger. Because we're so far north, the twilight lasts for hours and it was still a deep blue dusk at 10pm as I finally climbed up and into the snow-covered mountains. Beauteous!