January 31, 2004

Global Gluttony

Worked on getting things in order for taxes most of the day. Then we all went to the Food Festival at St. Bridget's in Pacific Beach with JoAnn and Michael. They had food there from twenty or so countries, so we grazed for dinner. Several tables had a bit of ethnic booze as well, so my tapas and baklava and ravioli and Nigerian goat rice and pirogi were washed down with some Scottish scotch, Swedish glog, and Trinidadian rum punch. Then the circle dancing began.

We continued the home Russian film festival with Stachka, a silent Eisenstein film from 1925. Cruel piglike capitalist factory owners drive workers to strike. Chaos, intrique and pain follow.

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January 30, 2004

An Evening in Russia

Alex has an essay to write about the Russian revolution and it's not exactly flowing. To help build the mood, we went to Kensington Video, a San Diego treasure, and picked up an armload of tapes and a DVD to roll our own film festival. Tonight we watched Russian Ark.





What an amazing work! It's a tour of 300 years of Russian history told as a dreamlike walk through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The style is like a combination of Fellini and Kubrick, and the jawdroppingly astounding thing about it is that it was filmed all in a single continuous take. They had only one day to shoot the film as the Museum was going to be closed for them only that long. They decided that if something went wrong in the first 20 minutes they would start over, and something did go wrong three times. The fourth time was their last chance as the light was fading... and they did it. Ninety minutes of walking the camera along a 1.5 km path with 2000 actors representing everything from Peter the Great to the present.

I toured the Hermitage in the last year the city was called Leningrad, and there's no place like it in the world. This film brought that experience back to me and much more. Go rent it!

More info here, and here.

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Another Blogger in the Family

June has been secretly blogging since December and only a few days ago revealed the URL of Kicking My Feet Up. She's becoming quite the foodie, you'll see. We're eating well these days and hardly ever dining out. June's extracting herself from her former job was a good move for the whole family.

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January 29, 2004

Searching for Truth and News

Recent issues of ResourceShelf have pointed to some interesting new tools worth bookmarking.

purportal.com is like Dogpile for hoaxes and scams. From one page you can search Snopes, About.com's urban legends page, the CIAC Hoax Database and two virus engines. This is a handy link to have the next time some well-intentioned friend includes you on a massive list of people to be warned about the dangers of aspertame, a dying child wishing for postcards or a new proposed bill to tax email.

Another cool new tool for searching the news: Topix.net. The database includes content from 3100 sources organized into over 150,000 topics. Over 30,000 of these topics allow you to browse news by geographical location. So you can type in a zip code and find out what's in the news near that location. For example, here's what's going on in the places I've lived in my life:



Topix is still in beta and the coverage seems a little idiosyncratic, but it might become a useful way to tune in to a place.

January 28, 2004

Shouting in the Campus Parking Structure

No doubt you've seen that commercial where the guy mortifies his wife in St. Mark's Square in Venice by shouting out "I... LOVE... THIS... WOMAN!"

Well that's how I feel at the end of the day these days, only it's "I... LOVE... THIS... JOB!" that I want to shout. I love my wife, too, and that damn commercial reminds me that it's high time I replaced her lost wedding ring. But I'm going through a stretch where everything about teaching feels right and good and well worth doing.

I haven't actually shouted that out loud yet, but in my mind's eye I see the startled pigeons scatter in panic into the skies over College Avenue.

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January 27, 2004

Post-New Hampshire Quandary

I'm so tired I can barely sit up straight. Must.... blog.... before.... sleep.

OK: remember that rear-end collision last month? Well, the end result was that the insurance paid for a whole new rear bumper and I haven't gotten around to replacing the Dean sticker. I'm driving an apolitical car again, but soon that will change. Will I stick on one of these? Or these? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, if you know any Nader sympathizers, please show them this. And now, having fulfilled my holy obligation to blog, I'm off to bed.

January 26, 2004

Philips to Sell Foldable Screens

It's been hyped for several years, but it looks as though it's finally arriving for real. Philips Electronics says that they'll have 5 inch flexible displays actually for sale next year. Black and white at first, but you can bet that larger color versions will follow.

So picture this: you're sitting in Starbucks and pull an 8 inch tube out of your pocket. Out of it unfurls an 11 inch flexible sheet that proceeds to show you all the latest news, a streaming movie, or Harry Potter Volume VIII as you sip your venti chai latte. That sound you hear is 500 million trees exhaling an oxygen-rich sigh of relief.

More on the technology here, here, and here.

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January 25, 2004

Gaming IKEA

Have you ever felt trapped in IKEA? The brilliant Matt Baldwin of Defective Yeti has turned the experience into a first-person shooter game.

January 24, 2004

Kerry Beats Bush?

That's according to the latest Newsweek Poll. The game is far from over, of course, but it's getting a lot more interesting. This seems like a good time to remind my readers (both of you) that

THERE IS ONLY ONE WEEK LEFT TO ENTER THE CYBERPONY PRESIDENTIAL PREDICTION POLL

On January 31, the poll closes. We'll revisit it next November to see who came closest soonest.

You can look at earlier entries here, and then cast your vote here. You can enter a second time if you've changed your mind (as I have).

Pass the link on to your crazy aunt in the attic and anyone else you know who has a knack for seeing into the future.

The winner, to be proclaimed next November, will receive worldwide ;-) fame here as well as a certificate suitable for framing but not actually framed. Presidential candidates themselves, astrologers and members of the Trilateral Commission or Illuminati may not enter. Void where prohibited by law.

Good luck!

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January 23, 2004

Making the Orb Glow

Just received a BloggerBuzz newsletter via email which talks about how much Blogger has grown since being acquired by Google. Apparently they have an Ambient Orb in their offices tapped into the Blogger back end.

Since being acquired by Google, Inc., Blogger's user base has nearly doubled. We hooked up this ambient orb at the office that somehow knows how many new blogs have been created in the last hour and changes color accordingly. Right now it's red, which means three hundred new Blogger blogs have been created in the last hour. Crazy.


With 53 new blogs created this week for two of my courses, it tickles me to know I helped redden that orb.

The whole idea of ambient displays is interesting. The idea is to create unobtrusive ways to monitor data that changes dynamically and embed them into living and working spaces as decorations. You mostly don't notice them, but when something changes that should get your attention, they change in ways that grab your eyes. Googling around, I find Weathermobile, Google employee Kevin Fox's musings, Craig Wisneski's thesis at the MIT Media Lab, and Smart Artefacts and the Disappearing Computer. Interesting stuff.

I wonder if future classrooms will have some kind of panel on the wall showing the degree of interest, understanding, boredom and frustration in the room. Good teachers, of course, do this with their own wetware, but is there a way to do it better?

January 22, 2004

Virtual Watergate

Remember the good old days when you had to round up a bunch of disaffected Cubans and break into offices in the middle of the night in order to spy on your political enemies? Not any more, thanks to technology! From an article by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe:

"Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe."


This deserves a lot of media scrutiny, and maybe some jail time. Will it sink without a trace in our present journalistic stupor?

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January 21, 2004

musicplasma : the music visual search engine

I contribute to three other blogs and have already written about this elsewhere today, but it's so interesting that I can't help double-dipping. musicplasma : the music visual search engine might solve a problem I've had for some time now: finding music I like.

There was a time when I knew everything that flashed by on MTV and a lot of obscure stuff, too. Now, it's all a blur. Alex has good taste in the latest music, as well as an appreciation for classics from the 80s and late 60s. He's brought some gems to my attention, like "She's the Girl All the Bad Guys Want" by Bowling for Soup. But once I hear something I like, where do I go for more like it?

That's where musicplasma comes in. Enter a starting point (like Bowling for Soup) and up comes a radar screen showing other groups that are like that in some way. Links to Amazon pop up as well, so you can hear snippets of the music and (gasp!) buy it, though I'm much more likely to hit the iTunes Music Store for that. What's like Bowling for Soup? According to this, New Found Glory, Sum 41, Mest, Sugarcult, Simple Plan and Good Charlotte. Never heard of any of them, but I'm going to sample them now.

January 20, 2004

Birth of 28 New Bloggers

It's that time of semester again. Tonight I introduced blogging to my class of pre-service English and foreign language teachers. Their new blogs, mostly without content yet, are here.

Last year I just got them set up with their blogs and didn't push it much harder than that. It wasn't a graded part of the course. By the end of the semester, only 4 or 5 of them were still actively blogging. This time, I'm giving credit for the activity and being more specific about what I'm expecting. We'll see how it goes and whether it sticks past the semester's end. I'm looking forward to seeing what they write!

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January 19, 2004

Weapons of Mass Distraction

A few days ago there was a report that some Danish inspectors finally, at long last, found some illegal weapons in Iraq. True, they had been buried for more than a decade, but they seemed to contain chemical agents like mustard gas. It wasn't widely reported, seems to me, that a further analysis shows that there was 'No blister agent' in Iraq shells.

Not only that, it's clear that the fact that all the old weapons had been destroyed in 1991, and that the administration knew it. Their most solid information source was Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, who gave the order to destroy it all and defected in 1995. According to Ray McGovern in a Miami Herald piece:

"Documentary corroboration that Kamel's order was carried out surfaced this month in a handwritten letter obtained by Barton Gelman of The Washington Post. The letter was written by Hossam Amin, director of the Iraqi office overseeing U.N. inspectors, five days after Kamel's defection. It confirms that Iraq had in fact destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons during the summer of 1991, before U.N. inspectors even knew of their existence.

Does this mean that Kamel's testimony had been known in Washington and London more than seven years before Bush's address last January, and that during that entire period no evidence had come to light poking holes in the information he provided? Yes."


Such a sleazy President we have. I'm watching the caucus in Dubuque, Iowa live on C-SPAN and feeling cautiously optimistic that democracy will ultimately fix this mess.

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Google Holiday Logos



If you did a Google search on January 15, you would have seen the Google logo take on yet another celebratory form in honor of the Spirit rover on Mars. From Megnut's blog, I've just learned that there is an ongoing collection of all the Google Holiday Logos used over the years. Clever people, those Googlers.

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January 18, 2004

Ancient Color

We think of the past as having occurred in black and white. A couple of weeks ago, Alex and I chuckled at something on TV that had a flashback to ancient Rome that was in black and white, as if Kodachrome wasn't available yet but Tri-X was.

So it's amazing when you can look at genuine color photos from close to a century ago. It makes the past seem closer, more like the present in some ways. Where can you see such pictures? The Library of Congress Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record site shows the work of a Russian photographer who took three pictures of the same scene through red, green and blue filters. Back in the early 20th century, he would then project those images through the same filters and recreate a full color image. Today the same effect was achieved by combining the images digitally. Very cool stuff.

I'm guessing that by 2104 somebody will have figured out how to construct 3-D images out of the boring flat color pictures we take today.

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January 17, 2004

Spoons

The whole family went to the Kelly's for dinner (home of jedimike.net) and after dinner we played a number of card games. The hit of the evening, though, was Spoons, a game I'd never heard of.

That last link describes it exactly as we played it, and apparently that's how it was done in Jo Ann Kelly's family since the dawn of time. But after poking around on the web, I'm amazed to see how many variations there are. Here are some of them:


Simple though it sounds, it was hilarious. A great time was had by all.

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State of the Union Score Card

Get your crap detector ready for Tuesday's speech by downloading the Score Card from TomPaine.com.



I wonder what this year's Big Lie will be?

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January 16, 2004

Oklahoma City

Had a great day here doing a keynote and four breakouts for the Lead Technology Educator program here. Great group, well prepared for this and ready to move forward. Scott McAdoo and the other people leading the group have done some very clever things to make it easy for teachers to create WebQuests. Rather than running them through the gauntlet of web editing and FTP, they set up a system called QuickWeb that allows them to use Word templates to start their WebQuest and publish them by dragging and dropping them into their own web space. They've even set the LTEs up with space for their own blogs. Very with it.

After the conference, Don Wilson and Dawn Danker took me to see the memorial downtown for the victims of the terrorist bombing in 1995.







Dined with Don and Dawn at a cajun place in Bricktown before flying out. Maybe another time I'll get to visit the nearby Daiquiri Zone Sports Bar, a concept I'll need to see to understand.

January 15, 2004

Live from OKC

Uneventful trip. Was taken directly to the hotel and I'm spending the evening reading and thinking about next week's classes. On stage all day tomorrow, starting with a keynote.

And I hereby thumb my nose at the Oklahoma City Hilton which advertises itself as having internet access. They've rigged up the dataports in the rooms (a simple dial-up connection) so that using them requires $9.95 a day, even for local dialup. I can't get my laptop to connect... something that never happens elsewhere, so I'm reduced to using the brand-X Windows box in the lobby. How 1990!

January 14, 2004

Historic Tale Construction Kit

Ever wanted to create a comic strip in the style of medieval tapestries? Of course. Who doesn't? Well now you can.

Taught the first night of our new course for freshmen. They're soooooooooo young compared to my usual grizzled 30-something grad students. Should be fun.

I'm off to Oklahoma City in the morning.

January 13, 2004

Obligatory Post

Well, not wanting to break my 2004 streak of posting something every day, I'm here to report that my first two classes have met and went well. My class for English teachers started tonight. I showed them a video poem made by one of last semester's students as well as some of their blogs (Hi Tamara!) and they got very psyched. I really like catching them so early in their careers and turning them on to what's possible. Tomorrow my third class debuts, and that is going to be a special challenge. More info to follow.

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January 12, 2004

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Dodge!

Today is June's birthday, and it's one of those odometer-tripping ones that require special attention. Alex and I responded to the challenge yesterday by baking a Burnt Almond Cake, one of June's favorites that we can't seem to buy ready made anywhere any more. None of the recipes online matched our recollection of it, so we combined Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Golden Cake with the custard cream from this recipe and the almond frosting from this one. The end result was unbelievably good... especially considering that I don't remember ever making a cake before. To cap it off, we gave her a gift certificate at Great News, a cooking place and The Recipe Manager software. She was very pleased, even if the American Heart Association wasn't.

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January 11, 2004

BlogPulse

What are the computer literati buzzing about lately? Check BlogPulse: Automated Trend Discovery for Weblogs to find out.

Today, for example, there's a lot of chatter about Paul O'Neill's description of life in Bush's cabinet...and his appearance on 60 Minutes tonight. There's also talk about the Consumer Electronics Show, Tom Harkins's endorsement of Dean, and Tom Cruise.

The site looks for phrases that have had a sudden rise in frequency, not necessarily the most popular phrases occuring in blogs. Looks like an interesting way to keep your ear to the ground.

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My So-Called Blog

Great New York Times article about the world of 15-year-old bloggers. Rings true to me.

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January 10, 2004

Colorful Living

When I was a kid, my buddy George Snyder and I rigged up three flashlight bulbs with a battery and three rheostats. We put red, green and blue cellophane over the lights and aimed them at a white sheet of paper. The idea was that by adjusting the rheostats like volume controls we would be able to create every possible color. We hoped to discover brand new colors never before seen by Man or named by Woman. I don't remember what happened but I think this project, like those of other 13 year olds, petered out somewhere short of a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough.

I'm reminded of that after seeing this Vos Pad Apartment of the Future. Apparently soon you'll be able to change the colors of your home lighting to anything you want thanks to the miracle of LEDs as pictured here. Personally, I'd have a bit less purple.

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January 09, 2004

Education Reforms: Simply a Fraud

Here's a smart piece from The Newtown Bee, a little newspaper in my home state.

"The last cynical step, prudently assuming that all else has failed, will be to order the towns to offer school vouchers. Since these will be of modest value, many will end up at religious schools, which was the main point of the whole enterprise in the first place. That's what a hardy band of the president's religious supporters crave, and will most likely get, if he stays in office. No money for Head Start, preschools, nutrition, tutoring, computers, books, school nurses, or anything else. Just vouchers."

There must be 100 reasons to vote the Chimp out of office this year. This is just one of them.

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Count Your Blessings

OK, I'll stop whining about having to teach more students per class. THIS is what's happening in Nigeria:

"Teachers are now coping with 150 to 200 students in a class. Yet the same teachers are not often well remunerated. Often the same teachers to handle large class do not have teaching aids just as the schools lack adequate library facilities, laboratories and sporting facilities."

January 08, 2004

Goodbye to All That

Tomorrow Governor Ahhnold will roll out his vision for higher education, a move that will directly affect things around here.

"In his bid to stabilize student fees, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could trade California's reputation as a provider of cheap, world-class higher education for something maybe more valuable to parents: more predictability about how much it will cost to send their child to college."

So tuition will go up, but within limits, and what we're able to spend is heading down fast. We've been asked to plan for a 25% cut in faculty budget. The details aren't set, but it's clear that next Fall we'll all be teaching more students and more classes. We'll have to let most of our part-timers go and some tenured faculty are going to be teaching courses they'd rather not touch. This will pass, but interesting times loom ahead.

We discussed all this and hatched strategies to minimize the pain at our department meeting this afternoon. Thankfully I've got great colleagues all pulling in the same direction and enjoying each others' company. I'd hate to be in some other department where a shrinking pie brings out the nastiness in everyone.

As educational technologists we're better prepared than, say, a Linguistics department to imagine ways to reinvent the way we do business. Everything about higher ed, though, resists change no matter how creative your ideas are. We need flexible scheduling, streamlined bureaucracy, differentiated staffing, a blurring of the lines between extended studies and regular courses, the ability to count distant courses as part of our load... lots of things. Maybe this crisis will open up some possibilities but I'm guessing it won't last long enough to alter the fundamentals.

At the halfway point in our meeting we all went down to Scripps Cottage to have a department group picture taken. First time we've done that since the early 80s when there were only four of us.



I hope we won't look back at this picture and think, "That was us in a golden time just before things fell apart."

January 07, 2004

ERIC's Ghost

Educators everywhere mourned last year when the discontinuation of the AskERIC service was announced. In December, the site went to byte heaven. I was particularly disappointed since I fondly remember my two years as a grad assistant back in the Disco Era for the organization that hatched AskERIC .

I was glad to see, though, that a new page, The Educator's Reference Desk, has taken up some of the slack. It's hosted by the Information Institute of Syracuse, a direct descendent of the old ERIC/iR Clearinghouse I worked for. You can't post questions that ERIC researchers will look up for you any more, but you can look at the archived questions and answers, search the ERIC database, and plunder a database of over 2000 lesson plans. Bookmark this, fellow mind-growers. It will help you find answers to all things educational.

January 06, 2004

Gringos con Chiles Poblanos

Alex returns to school tomorrow, after two weeks of us mostly staying inside computing, reading, eating and resting. In a rushed attempt to break out of this routine before time ran out, we went on a disorganized geocaching foray in search of Lake Murray Loot. It was already late afternoon when we started, and I didn't take time to study the site before going there. So we spent half an hour hoofing around the lake in the chilly gloom, watching the latitude and longitude change ever so slowly in the the desired direction. At last we decided that by the time we'd get there we'd be blistered and frozen (in a SoCal way) and we turned around empty handed. Another time.

June had a recipe picked out involving pork shoulder, garlic, oregano, potatoes, zucchini, corn... and chile poblano. That last thing showed us our limitations in spite of the hundreds of hours of Food Channel viewing we had under our belts. You've seen it there, no doubt... the business of putting the chiles under the broiler and burning the bejesus out of them, and then scraping the blackened skin off. It goes so smoothly on TV. For us, it was like watching the Three Stooges attempt brain surgery. We peeled and squeezed and plucked until a layer only one molecule thick of actual chile flesh was left. That, however, turned out to be enough. Two hours later the spicy dish warmed us as we watched first Lord of the Rings DVD.

And now Winter Break is over.

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January 05, 2004

30 Useful Seconds

The Bush in 30 Seconds contest is down to the last 15 finalists, with the winner to be announced next week. I think this one is my favorite.

January 04, 2004

Getting Lucky

Given the first-of-the-year self-improvement musing that afflicts us all each January, I was intrigued by The Loser's Guide to Getting Lucky on the BBC site. It describes studies done by Richard Wiseman comparing people who described themselves as "lucky" with those who thought of themselves as "unlucky". From that he derived a number of general tips for turning yourself into a lucky dog. Several books ensued.

What's the secret? Stay open to possibilities. Remind yourself of your successes. Look for the silver lining. Change your routine; do something out of the ordinary. Trust your gut.

In designing a new course for this coming semester I'm doing a lot of reading about creative problem-solving. A lot of the same advice applies to that, too. So add to my list of secret resolutions for 2004: get luckier.

(Actually, I feel pretty lucky as is. Couldn't hurt to try harder, though.)

January 03, 2004

I Landed on Mars Today

Or at least my name did. I'd forgotten that I signed up for this a few years ago. How utterly cool!

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January 02, 2004

A Vacation Fantasy

While playing with the new Google Alert service, I decided to keep myself updated on what's happening in Bonthe, Sierra Leone, the small town I lived in during my Peace Corps stint. To my amazement, up popped a set of pages describing the Beach Hut Project, a plan to turn Bonthe into the next Fantasy Island for the adventurous. As I dug around, though, my BS detector began to light up. The picture on this page looks very inviting, but it's nowhere near my little town. The beaches around Bonthe are on the river, not the ocean side, and there are mangrove roots and a quick dropoff into dark murkiness rather than clean white sands. There are unspoiled beaches on the other side of the island, but no roads that get you there. They'd have to do something about the malaria, too.

It gets even more fantastic. The larger scheme of which the huts are a part envisions the tourist money fueling a boom that will make Bonthe look like Miami, complete with an international airport bringing flights in from London. Now my baloney detector is smoking!

Still, the thought of going back to Bonthe as a comfortable tourist tickles me. It would be wonderful if the money for something like that could resurrect that part of Sierra Leone but I just don't see it happening for decades.

January 01, 2004

Another Year

Following the lead of Alex, I'm starting the new year with a list of things I hope to do in this space in 2004:
  • Daily postings... not the biweekly trailing off of recent times
  • More links. There's a long list I've been hoarding.
  • More tales of travel. This year I'll be going to Romania, Hong Kong, Brazil and New Zealand, so there should be lots to talk about.

But for today, not much to report. Watched the pilot episode of Leave it to Beaver today along with about 3 hours of Twilight Zone. Got to watch Alex's face as he saw "To Serve Man" for the first time and remember what it a kick it was back in 1961 when the ending was a surprise. And June made enormous popovers for breakfast

Wishing for a Happy 2004 for us all!

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