August 25, 2004

Equal Opportunity Astroturfing

In the interest of fairness, my bride has suggested that I point out that it isn't just Republicans who practice the art of astroturfing. MoveOn does it, too, though with them it's more a matter of providing talking points rather than automating the whole process. The Online Journalism Review has published Letters Editors Flummoxed Over Weed-Like 'Astroturf' Growth on the topic. Bottom line: don't look to the letters as a gauge of genuine popular sentiment. I suppose they never were.

August 24, 2004

Fighting Back Against 419 Spam

I was listening to a program on NPR tonight in which they interviewed someone who responded to the ubiquitous Nigerian spammers by engaging the writer in a counterscam, one that required the Nigerian to join the fictitious Church of the Painted Breast. Hilarity, of course, ensued.

By trimming back the URL, I found that this was just one example of a much larger world of Scambaiting with many efforts underway. Even though McLuhan foresaw that we would all be part of a global village, could he possibly have imagined all this?


August 22, 2004

Looking Up

Last night the Kellys and Dodges joined three busloads of SDSU alums for a star party at the Mt. Laguna Observatory. Not a bad event, though we missed most of it by edging away from the reggae music and going out on our own to hang around one of the telescopes. There's nothing like staring into the moon's craters to put a litte awe into your evening. The night sky was a whole lot darker than what we see from the city, and the Milky Way was plainly visible.

We also saw two satellites go over. I noted the times and when we got home I consulted the very cool Heavens Above site to see what they were. Turns out that we were seeing Cosmos 2082 Rocket and Okean O Rocket, two Russian launch vehicles. Here's how Cosmos 2082 looked to us, and here's how we looked to it. Some great math, science and geography lessons could be designed around this site!


August 21, 2004

Be Seeing You

Earlier this summer we upgraded to digital cable TV, which brought our channel count up into the hundreds, most of which aren't any more worth watching than the first 70. It takes a lot of clicking to get up to the high numbers, and there are long stretches of premium channels to skip over, like:

216 - HBOGL: First run movies about giant lizards
323 - VHALB1: Music videos from Albania
603 - PPVWIQ: Pay per view Bush grammatical mistakes

But buried among the ones we DO get is BBC America on Channel 345, and there tonight I watched The Prisoner for the first time in decades. It was just as I remembered: Number 6, the Village, the foiled escape.

They'll be running the series through October and I hope to catch all 17 episodes again. Turns out I'm not alone in appreciating the series. There are fan clubs, a convention, episode guides, a board game... you name it. The Village is an actual resort in Wales that's still in business. THAT would be an interesting vacation!

August 19, 2004

Covering up the Past

Another cool site. is a database of magazine covers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Popular Science and Technology section is particularly fun to thumb through. Radio in the 20s was like personal computing in the 80s... all geeky and experimental, and by the 30s it was going through its dot-com boom. Some of these covers could be cropped into great desktop pics.

[Thanks to J-Walk Blog for the link]

My Own Private Palagic

I love stuff like this: the Tagging Of Pacific Palagics site. They are tracking the comings and goings of over 1500 birds and sea creatures and making the data available to all of us, scientists and tuna-sandwich eaters alike. You can get a godseye view of tags reported within the last 10 days and pick out the critter of your choice.

I'm personally identifying with Elephant Seal #39456 at the moment. He (or she) seems to be marching to a different drummer by heading solo down the Baja coast having, I guess, a wonderful time.

If I had a middle school class to teach, I'd have every kid adopting their own critter, tracking it every few days, predicting where they're going next, writing diaries from the undersea point of view, relating the journeys to other datasets of water temperature, placing bets on when their fish would meet up with one of the others... lots of science, math and language arts wrapped around something interesting and real.


August 18, 2004

Future Headlines

Michael Kieschnick in WorkingForChange has a list of things that the media isn't covering much now, but may bubble into the news over the next few months.

  • Who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame?
  • Who in Halliburton approved bribing a Nigerian official?
  • Did Cheney approve illegal Halliburton operations in Iran?
  • Was Representative Nick Smith offered a bribe?
  • How did Iran learn that the U.S. broke its secret code?
  • Who OK'd jamming the phone lines of a get out the vote effort in New Hampshire?

There are small signs that the media have been reaching around back and rediscovering their spines. Maybe there's a Woodward and Bernstein that will uncover the answers to these questions. Soon, I hope.

August 17, 2004

Astroturf Redux

According to the Daily Kos, the GOP is at it again: urging its partisans to send heartfelt letters to the editor and actually composing the letters for them. I've discussed this here before and I thought the editors were onto this by now. Astroturfing, the creation of the appearance of a grass roots movement, diminishes the credibility of those letters pages and in the long run damages the democratic process. There ought to be a requirement to disclose the origins of these things whenever more than 50% of the letter was prefabricated.


August 16, 2004 Word of the Day

Today's word is Pervicacious. I'd never heard of it before now. "Pervicacious" seems like the perfect adjective to describe our one-term President, and yet a quick Googling came up with not a single instance of that.

So let me be the first: George W. Bush is dangerously pervicacious. And, in the spirit of Googlebombing, let me also be the first to link it this way: pervicacious.

My Next Mac?

The Apple rumor sites are waking up again after a long silence. All ears are perked up for what will be announced on August 31 at the Apple Expo in Paris: a G5-based iMac. I'm overdue for a new machine on my desk on campus, so I'm hoping the the buzz is accurate: a 20 inch, all-in-one in which the computer is essentially built into the screen. The picture is of one design imagined by Isamu Sanada. Very sweet if true! See Cult of Mac for more.

August 15, 2004

Hmmm....Should I See William Hung?

You'd think his 15 minutes would be up by now, but William Hung, the tone-deaf-but-enthusiastic American Idol contestant, is still being asked to perform. Why bring this up? Because I just noticed that he's doing a concert on the last night that I'll be in Singapore. What a delightfully weird way to wrap up the trip that would be. No doubt he'll do She Bangs yet again.

August 10, 2004


What an amazing planet we're on! Spend a quiet few moments scrolling through this.

The photographer is Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Wow.


August 09, 2004

Alex Now Wiser

This morning the A-Boy had all four wisdom teeth removed. They knocked him out for less than an hour, and then summoned us in to see him lying down, out cold. Once they got him upright, he was quite a sight: eyes rolling back, blood-smeared teeth, groggy. We brought him home for a full day of TV watching, laptop surfing, and an ongoing parade of apple sauce, soup, mac & cheese, ice cream. Nothing makes you feel more like a parent than packing gauze into the bloody sockets of your son's mouth (my job), or jumping up to get him something mushy to eat every few hours (June's job).

He's had an intense few weeks. Friday we brought him back from three weeks at the CTY program at Loyola Marymount. He's a "nevermore" now, too old to return next year. He took a course in cognitive psychology and worked his way through a chunk of Anderson's text.

On Saturday he had his first behind the wheel driving lesson. June and I were conducting a pretty lame yard sale and watched him be driven off by his instructor at the start of the sale and drive up and park himself as we were closing it down. Another milestone.


August 06, 2004

Wiki as Collaborative Game Design Tool

Here's an example to think about. Paranoia, a role playing game, was recently updated with the help of a load of its fans who contributed ideas and content by means of a wiki. This makes me wonder if some creative product (game, story, poem) could be collaboratively written in a K-12 environment using the same technique. Hmm.


Virtual Literature Circles

From Meridian, this article by Johnny Walters describes an attempt to combine technology, reader response, and Socratic seminars. He used Zoomerang to get insights into the attitudes of his kids, and online discussion boards to complement the real-time face-to-face equivalent. It's a great example of a teacher using technology thoughtfully and creatively. Nice article!


August 05, 2004

In Search of the Educational Wiki Killer App

Alan Levine, whose cogdogblog is always hipdeep in cutting edge technology applications for higher ed, asks the question:Where the Wikis Are or Where Are the Wikis?.

Indeed. Blogs are hot now, but wikis are still a hard sell. This is especially true in the K-12 world where everyone imagines that kids will revert to Lord-of-the-Flies savagery when given the chance to edit everything. As I've bloviated previously, having a cool technology isn't enough. It has to be embedded in a learning structure that makes sense and wrapped a task that couldn't be accomplished easily any other way.

Wiki-based WebQuests are just one possibility. Shelly Peretz has already taken that ball and run with it by creating APBioWikiWebQuest. Are there other WikiWebQuests? Other entirely different applications that carry their weight in education? This is an interesting problem to work on.

August 04, 2004

Playful Learning Around the World

The Map of Creativity is a database of innovative educational projects around the world. It's very much worth a visit both to explore the content and to mess with its Flash-based interface. By clicking your way around here, you can tune into hundreds of projects that support learning, creativity and play. There's a lot going on out there, and it's heartening to see that there is still a place for play in an era driven by high-stakes testing.