February 13, 2006

StarLogo: TNG

Holy smokes! This is going to be a great tool for my games class next fall. The wizards of MIT recently announced StarLogo TNG, the next generation of the long running Star Logo 2 software. Forget what you know about Logo as a single abstract "turtle" going forward 50, right 90. Like the original Star Logo, this version allows you to set zillions of turtles on the loose so that you can simulate phenomena like the flocking of birds, the spread of disease, the bottleneck at the I-5/805 split or other complex decentralized behavior that emerges from simple rules.

What's new in TNG is that the world is 3-dimensional and the turtles are animated and a lot more turtlescent. They don't, in fact, have to look like turtles at all and the backdrop can be grimy and Quake-like, or sunny and Teletubbyish, or whatever you want.

It's only out for Windows now, but a Mac version is imminent. I can't wait to give it a try.


October 24, 2005

EASE History

Another interesting project has popped into my inbox. EASE History is a resource being developed at Michigan State University by doctoral student Brian Collins and a band of others. It's based on Rand Spiro's Cognitive Flexibility Theory, work that deserves to be more widely known by teachers than it is. EASE History provides an interface to scores of short video clips and other resources covering the 20th Century. It's designed for inquiry, engaging curiosity, compare and contrast... all the usual Good Things To Do With Your Head.

Though Cognitive Flexibility Theory tilts towards more open-ended inquiry, there's no reason that EASE History couldn't be the core resource for a more structured WebQuest. The Concept Clarification design patterns could be used to explore abstractions like stability and diversity. The Analyzing Bias pattern is tailor made for analyzing the campaign ads on the site. Other patterns, too.

I spent a half hour reminiscing about the 60s while exploring EASE History, wondering why today's antiwar protests are so tepid compared to the ones I participated in. Maybe we're still at about 1965 and just starting to wake up.


October 23, 2005

Rad Decision

A few months ago I blogged about Stewart Brand's Environmental Heresies, an article in Technology Review that recommended that environmentalists take a fresh look at nuclear power as a part of the way out of the mess we're in. I'm becoming sympathetic toward that view, as fusion power, zero-point energy, and unlimited ergs from Aladdin's lamp are nowhere near coming to fruition. Living in a coastal city, I find it easy to picture what a rise of a few feet in sea level is going to do to us. Something different has to happen, and soon.

According to its author, Steward Brand has endorsed Rad Decision, a techno-thriller about a nuclear power plant disaster. I've started to read it, and so far it's kept my interest like any good airport book. The author is an engineer at a nuclear power plant and he's intending it to be an entertaining way to learn more about the topic.

What's interesting to me beyond the topic, though, is the use of a blog as the means of pubishing the book. It's divided up into 37 episodes, each intended to be read in about 15 minutes. A new episode is posted three times a week and right now he's up to number 28.

Blogging, wikis, podcasts... all these things are intriguing because they are genres and tools that are still in their infancy. Rad Decision provides a case study of a mashup of edutainment and novel and soap opera and blog. Think of the design elements and choices the author made and that others will grapple with again:

  • Use reverse chronological order or not?
  • Plain text or illustrated?
  • Engage readers with comments on each posting or attach a forum to the whole b log?
  • Give the readers a vote on where the story goes next?
  • Bring in guest bloggers to add commentary as the story unfolds?
  • Link to educational resources as they become relevant?
  • Include suggested activities for classroom use?

The author has ended up on the simpler side of each question, but others who follow will take this idea in different directions. It's interesting to watch a new format like this emerge. This must be what is was like when movies first appeared. Or opera.


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 06, 2004

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!


July 31, 2004

Write Your Own Epitaph

Ever have one of those introspective days when you wonder what your life will amount to? Want to give yourself a platform for summing it all up in 25 words or less? Then jump on over to The Original Tombstone Generator and see what you can come up with. Here's mine, subject to future revision.


May 06, 2004

Listening to the World

That was an idea that appealed to me as a kid and it's what attracted me to listening to short wave radio. I used to imagine myself hanging out in space like the Star Child at the end of 2001, somehow being able to hear all the voices of the world at once. I know now that what I was hearing wasn't the voices of the world but rather the edited, naturally biased messages of the governments, companies and institutions that owned the stations. Not the voice of "the people", wherever they are.

I came across an experiment today in Global Consciousness. The idea is to provide a space for anyone to shout out a short message and know that it will be seen within minutes by anyone else on the site. Again, it's not really the globe talking... only those lucky few with computers, connectivity and leisure time. It's an interesting idea, though the global shoutouts aren't that riveting so far.

I wish there were something richer and more visual. In addition to posting short thoughts, I'd like to see how people are feeling each day. Imagine a screen with 50 emotion adjectives (like happy, disgusted, angry, serene). You check off 3 of them and click submit. Now imagine a globe on the screen that shows these emotions as different colors at the exact latitute and longitude of each participant. What would it look like as each day's news is absorbed? How would the colors change over the course of a year through seasons and holidays, or over the course of an election or a war? That would be fun to watch, even if it still only represents the feelings of the few, the proud, the connected.

That doesn't exist, so for now I'll content myself with listening to the world by proxy, filtered through the official media. You can see it all on one page with Newsmap.

Come to think of it, though, that moodglobe site wouldn't be that hard to do. Would it be interesting enough to others to sustain regular and widespread participation?


May 01, 2004

The Seven Brothers of Waterbury

Serendipity and the web. I was playing with Feedster and typed "Waterbury" into the search field. Not much interesting turned up until I got to The Seven Brothers of Waterbury. Zounds! They're making an indie film in my childhood back yard this summer.

Among the locations they'll be shooting in are my high school and Holy Land USA, the religious crudscape on Pine Hill where I played from pre-adolescence until College. I can't wait to see what they come up with.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


December 14, 2003

Happy Dance

Here's a little tune from India based on a Bollywood music video. Seems like an appropriate sound track for the global mood evoked by Saddam's dental exam today.

[Thanks to Looka for the link.]


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.


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 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]


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 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.


February 27, 2003

Recent Finds

Cool things seen recently online:

If you liked the movie Charly, or the short story Flowers for Algernon, you'll love Schrödinger’s Iraq.

Deepak Chopra has had the same inspiring thought that hit me a week ago: send the Pope and the Dalai Lama to Baghdad as a way to stop the bombing. What better way to demonstrate ones point of view?

Even some conservatives are getting uncomfortable with the current worldview in Washington. See
The Madness of Empire for a description of how the PNAC, a relatively obscure think tank, has hijacked national policy.


February 26, 2003

My Next Phone

I don't use my cellphone all that much except when I'm on the road and reluctant to pay the exhorbitant rates that hotels ask for long distance calls. I guess I haven't crossed over the line where one becomes cell-dependent. This, though, might pull me across that Rubicon. The SonyEricsson P800 has been talked about and longed for among the technoliterati for a year now, and it's finally shipping. CNET likes it, and those who already have one are effusive. Surfing the web from the car? Taking pictures of each day's random events? Having all my phone numbers in my hand? Yeah... I can get into this. I'll wait a bit longer to see how the synching with OSX pans out, and who rolls out the best plan. Can't wait.


February 23, 2003

Recent Finds

I haven't had much surfing time lately, but here are a few things that have caught my eye.

  • Caring for Your Introvert from The Atlantic. Describes how society so cruelly misconstrues us.
  • Free Online Spanish Lessons - Nicely done in Flash. A teaser for a boatload of CDROMs that I'm tempted to get.
  • The Classical Language Instruction Project at Princeton - Hear Homer, Plato, Virgil and others in the original Greek and Latin.
  • Improving Hill Tribe Education with Solar Power - The chronicle of an IQP (interactive qualifying project) of a student at WPI, my alma mater. It tickles me to see that IQPs are still going strong, as helping faculty figure out what they were was my first post-Peace Corps job in the 70s. What an adventure for a college kid!
  • The Republic of Cascadia - A not-too-serious call for a new nation made up of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. It's interesting to wonder, though, when the map of North America will be redrawn. Nothing lasts forever.
  • eSKUeL - A PHP script that does everything that phpmyadmin does, only better. Very nice!


February 06, 2003

Interesting Finds

One of the reasons I started blogging was to nail down things I found around the web before I forget them. That said, here are some cool new links.

  1. NewsQuakes - A world map showing the epicenters of each hour's headlines.

  2. A Dove's Guide: How to be an Honest Critic of the War

  3. United for Peace - Want to know where to go on Feb 15 to voice your opposition? I'll be in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Watch for the tall guy near the back of the crowd.

  4. A new random poem every time you refresh your screen from the Poetry Archives @ eMule.com

  5. And finally, something that's either complete baloney or something that will change everything about your daily life. A zero point energy device has been developed by an anonymous inventor and is being closely examined for bogosity. I'm betting on bogus, but always ready to be astounded.