June 28, 2007

Five Days in Atlanta

Atlanta Protest MarchWe're packing things up now after five days in Atlanta to attend NECC. The conference was good. I got to meet some new people at the WebQuest Birds of a Feather gathering, and got some nice feedback from my session Can Technology Make Us Wise?

While I was tied up at sessions, June and Alex went to the Martin Luther King Center and the Jimmy Carter Library.

Yesterday I heard chants and racket through the hotel window and looked down to see a pretty long protest parade. It was sparked by the closing of Grady, a hospital that serves the poor, but the parade included all kinds of causes. Pictures can be found here.


June 22, 2007

WebQuest Sites Rebooted

For the last four days, I've been spending all my creative time on updating the WebQuest web site. I've wanted to do that for years and thought that redoing it as a Drupal site would be the way to go. That, of course, laid a whole extra layer of necessary learning and tweaking and the thought of all that work just kept it from rising to the top of the to-do list.

Then I got a note from a colleague whose opinion I value. She very politely pointed out how dated the sites were getting and how it gave the impression that WebQuests were soooooo 20th century. That was enough to push me into action.

Instead of Drupalizing the whole site, I hunted around for some opensource templates I could adapt, which led me to Andreas Viklund's site.

Four days later, I've arrived at this. I'm pretty pleased!


June 21, 2007

Mystery Object in the Sky

For the third night in a row, we all went out in the back yard to watch the International Space Station go over. Last night it was there trailing Atlantis by a constellation's worth of distance. Tonight, the shuttle is in a different orbit and not visible here at all.

As predicted by Heavens Above, the ISS appeared above the northern horizon right on schedule at 9:44. We all (the three of us and two friends staying over) ooohed and ahhhed appropriately as it rose up almost directly overhead getting brighter all the time. Before it faded into the earth's shadow at the end of three minutes, someone noticed a second light in the sky. There it was, following the ISS in pretty much the same path about two minutes behind with a magnitude around 1.0, We thought it was going a little slower than the ISS, so I guessed that it must be in a slightly higher orbit and predicted that it would go into shadow at a higher point in the sky than the ISS did. We weren't carefully measuring anything, but I think my prediction held true.

So... back to Heavens Above to see what it was. Nothing was supposed to be passing over that way tonight. I poked around to the various web sites for people who watch satellites like HobbySpace and the Visual Satellite Observer's Home Page and found lots of dead links and stale information. No news on the NASA News page, either, of anything big that was jettisoned either from the ISS or Atlantis.

So what was it? In hopes of attracting someone who might know, let me finish this paragraph with a load of tasty, Googleable phrases: UFO, mysterious object, mystery object, mystery satellite, secret satellite, alien abduction and Paris Hilton. There. That should bring me some hits.

June 19, 2007

Watch the Skies!

Just saw something impressive: the International Space Station and Shuttle Atlantis passed over San Diego. They were separated by maybe just the width of the moon. I've seen a zillion satellites but never two close together like these. The whole thing lasted 50 seconds. As I write this, 15 minutes later, they're already off the coast of Ecuador.

By consulting the Heavens Above site, I was able to head out to the backyard exactly in time. Tomorrow they'll pass over again for a brighter and longer view. I'll be watching.

Remembrance of Things Pasta

There are three kinds of people in the world: phone people, email people, and village people who live simple lives in the Third World without ever having heard a ringtone. Me, I'm an email guy. I'm in constant touch with lots of people by mail and mostly use the phone to say no to political push-poll takers.

So last night we went to dinner at a friend's house. All communication about the meal was done by mail. Here's the condensed version that took place over a 24 hour period:

Him: Interested in coming over around 6 PM tomorrow for dinner?
Me: Love to. What can we bring?
Him: Excellent. How about a dessert?
Can you and June both do a pasta dish that contains olives, sun-dried
tomatoes, and artichokes?
Me: We can indeed. See you then!

Now, like most human communications, there might be some ambiguity here.

Look over the transcript and tell me what you would have done in my place:

A) Brought a dessert and assumed that the pasta part was left over from an earlier draft of the note
B) Brought a dessert and a pasta dish while puzzling over how specific the requested ingredients were and enjoying our friend's apparent vision of June and I laboring together over its creation.
C) Picked up the phone and asked for clarity just to make sure.

Choose your answer and then read the first comment to see what happened.

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June 16, 2007

Getting Paid by the Word

Three years ago as I was drifting off to sleep, I came up with the perfect new name for a long term project of mine, PLANalyst, which I wrote in HyperCard in the early 90s. For some time I've been wanting to revive it as an online application and hosting site for user-contributed lesson plans. Someone else had since trademarked PLANalyst for another product, so a new name was needed. My new name was perfect and the next morning I registered the .com, .net, .org domains, and then kept renewing them while waiting for the time to put the site together.

But then, last week, an email came out of the blue from a startup company that wanted to buy the domains. They said it was exactly the right word for their forthcoming super secret product. I refused at first, since the domain name was also perfect for my updated PLANalyst site, but everyone has their price. We went back and forth a bit and settled on $5500. The check arrived today.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of writing short stories for science fiction magazines. They paid 5 to 10 cents a word in those days, so a story might end up netting a few hundred. Big bucks to a downtown poor kid. And today, I've gotten paid much more handsomely for just one word. Nice work if you can get it. Time to think up a few new words.


June 13, 2007

Britain's Got Talent

I'm not proud to admit that I watched America's Got Talent the other night. It made me wish for the black and white days of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour where the audience and judges weren't so cruel. Why watch? I guess we all hope for a moment of transcendent surprise and joy. Didn't happen.

But such moments have happened at least once in the original Brit version. Watch this and warm up your heart:


June 04, 2007

I'm STILL the World's Most Eminent Bermuda Triangle Expert

Sheesh! What's with today's seventh graders? They manage to find this obscure page from 1996 and yet manage to miss this one which explains my actual relationship with the Devil's Triangle. This note arrived today:
Dear Mr. Dodge,

Hi! I'm a middle school student doing a documentary film for a school project on the Bermuda Triangle, and I need to interview an expert. I was wondering if I could have an 'email interview' with you. This is part of the project, and I would really appreciate it if you would answer a few questions about the Bermuda Triangle, and your opinion on some theories. It is with great difficulty that I have finally found an expert, someone who is really experienced on this topic. So, if you can reply back to this email with your answer, it would really mean a lot to me. And if you could reply quickly, before Wednesday or Thursday, (June 5 or 6), because there is a deadline.

Thank you,
M*** A***, 7th Grader
A much more articulate letter than I usually get on this topic (which happens once a month or so).

I'll try to let the kid down gently. But for all the rest of you seventh graders out there... don't write me, please. And you seventh grade teachers: can't you find a way to make interesting writing assignments without stooping to pseudoscience?