October 2002 Archives

life is good

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A conversation with Lane, my 8-year-old son, about the tradeoff of trick-or-treating rather than story time tonight:

Me: �Come on, what�s better? Me reading a chapter of Harry Potter with you, or you going out and getting a ton of candy and hanging out with your friends?� (thinking this is basically a rhetorical question)

Lane: (after a brief pause for consideration) �Well, reading with you is better, because you�re family and I love you and that�s more important than anything else.�

so it'll be microsoft, not aol...

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Looks like the possible "aoling" of blogspace that I discussed earlier might come from Microsoft, not AOL. Anil Dash has an article about Microsoft's easy-to-install-and-use "Sharepoint" software, which is basically a blog tool. But, of course, they don't call it that (shades of the conversation on Joi Ito's blog about whether this will be called "blogging" when it goes mainstream). They call it "lists." (Cue "Jaws" music here...)

staying real

My kids are out trick-or-treating tonight. They left filled with that same sense of wonder that I remember from my childhood..."you mean all I have to do is ring someone's doorbell and they'll give me candy???" I love seeing them so happy, enthusiastic, optimistic. It gives me hope.

And it makes me realize how very, very lucky I am to live somewhere where my children can safely go door-to-door, where I know my neighbors and trust them, where someone down the street can take my kids out into the night without causing even a flicker of fear in me. Important to remember that, especially when I get caught up in the frustrations of daily life and academic politics.

I value the online communities that I'm involved with, but I'm not nearly as dependent on them for my (and my family's) well-being as I am on my physical community. I don't see that as being likely to change in the foreseeable future. Nor do I want it to.

I was thinking about that as I was post-processing this year's Pop!Tech (more on that this weekend, after I get this $%^& NSF grant proposal done). Every year they put streaming video of the conference up on the net after the conference is over. Between that and the real-time blogging, why do I need to go? Because the real connections and energy that happen in the opera house during and between presentations is every bit as important as the content being presented. They feed back on each other.

That's what makes me so certain that "distance education" will never completely replace what we do now on campus. The ability to deliver information will improve, and the quality of virtual campus communities will improve, as well. But that won't replace the environment that a good teacher--and a responsive class--can build in a brick-and-mortar classroom. I know there are DL proponents who would argue with me about that...but much as I love and thrive in virtual communities, I simply can't see them replacing the physical classroom in entirety.

css extravaganza


Followed a link from Scott Andrew's blog to Meryl's list of over 900 blogsites that are laid out with CSS and no tables (except for tabular data, natch). Woohoo! This is what I loved about MT when I first looked at it, and it's going to be a wonderful way to teach the power of CSS to my students next quarter.


Wow. Just discovered All Consuming, an amazing site that tracks what books are being mentioned in blogs. Started out looking at the page for Smart Mobs, because it mentioned me mentioning the book. (Getting confused yet? Wait, it gets better.) Decided to follow the link on that page that promised more information about my site. This was the one that made my head spin. Somehow they'd (a) found my blog (which has only been up for about a week), (b) extracted the title of every book I mentioned (not all of which linked to "obvious" sites like Amazon), and (c) created a list of what it called "Google Friends". It was that last one I found most remarkable, since it included my business site, my family site, my 8-year-old son's site, and even Little Feat's site (my husband is tight with the band). I don't know if I love the knowledge management/data mining that this represents, or if I'm terrified by it.

blog sightings

More evidence that we're on the cusp. E-mail today from a colleague on the academic senate--pointing me to a blog entry from a professor at UPenn. I didn't much like it (anyone who loves Andrew Sullivan is somewhat suspect in my book...). But the fact that I got the message at all was interesting. First time I've gotten mail from someone at RIT specifically mentioning (and explaining the context of) a blog post. I hear the not-so-distant rumble of change.

Of course, my failure to link here to the post in question raises an issue that Tom Coates has been discussing lately, having to do with "the power of the incoming link." Interesting stuff.

the art of definitions

Doc Searls pointed me to Dave Winer's definition of SOAP:

It's a simple way to call procedures running on other machines, on other OSes, written in other languages, using different economic systems, without being forced to pay a tax to Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Sun or the W3C.
Wish we could all do such a good job of explaining complex technologies in straightforward terms!

I want this apron.

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Family members reading this, take note: I really would like one of these aprons for christmas or hanukkah!

I found it when following a link from Geek Culture's "how to make a mac-o'-lantern". I have a feeling it's a lot harder to make one of these than they make it sound, but it would be great fun to have a super-scary Steve Ballmer pumpkin on our porch tomorrow night...

the aoling of blogspace

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So I'm talking with one of my colleagues about blogs, and explaining how only twice in my life have I had this sense that a technology was about to become really important. We're both reminiscing about the early days of post-BITNET e-mail, and the first wave of web sites (remember O'Reilly's Network Navigator?). And then the conversation turns to "what happened to all that promise"? I remind him of the day the AOL floodgates opened and usenet and e-mail were never the same. What's going to be the effect on blogging when/if the exponential curve takes its sharp turn upwards? This LA Times article suggests some possibilities. Looks like "reaching critical mass" is becoming synonymous with "succumbing to the great unwashed masses."

design trumps content

I knew it. And now studies prove it. Consumers don't really look at the quality of information on the web...they make their decisions based primarily on how it looks. Consumer Webwatch has released the results of two surveys--one from Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab, one from Sliced Bread Design, both showing that:

people claimed that certain elements were vital to a Web site's credibility (e.g., having a privacy policy), but our most recent study showed that people rarely used these rigorous criteria when evaluating credibility (e.g., they almost never referred to a site's privacy policy). We found a mismatch, as in other areas of life, between what people say is important and what they actually do.

Okay, this is where we all gasp in surprise... A gap? Between what people say is important and what they do? Say it's not so!

teaching programming in context

Have been thinking a lot about how we teach technology, especially programming. University of British Columbia built a very cool "Virtual Family" game-like program for teaching Java to undergrads, which seems like it's exactly the way we need to go. Then one of my students showed me Terrarium, a really cool tool for learning .NET.

We need to do more of this. We need release time so that we can do more of this. We need to care about doing this. We need to tell people when we do this.

evangelism overload


I am totally convinced that blogging is the next "big thing" in technology--one of Kurzweil's exponential curves, just like e-mail, and the the web. So as a recent convert, I'm trying to tap my new enthusiasm to evangelize. I think we'll be reworking the undergraduate web design course to use Movable Type as a tool for learning CSS (to customize), design (to compare and contrast), and CGI (to install). I think they'll learn better if it's "computing in context" (what our department really is--or should be--all about).

Thinking about making David Weinberger's book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, part of the required reading for the course.

xml tools

Thought we'd purchased XML Spy for our labs, but apparently the purchasing process broke down last year. So I've got about two weeks to evaluate, select, purchase, and install a new tool. Needs to run in our syslab (meaning Win2K or Linux), and an OS X version for me (so that I don't have to run Virtual PC) would be really nice. I'm feeling a little cranky about this, but there's not much I can do except suck it up and find a tool, fast. In my copious free time, natch.

So far, have found oXygen and Topologi. Not much in the way of reviews out there. Will need to surf a bit and see if I can can find people who've used (or at least tested) these.

aggregating aggravation

There are still too many barriers to entry in the use of these wonderful new technologies. Very reminiscent of early Internet days.

So, I've successfully installed mt 2.5, and it works wonderfully. (After multiple conversations with our dept sysadmin about perl plug-ins...) Now I want to add RSS aggregation to my site, but the process is opaque at best. Nothing appears to be build into mt, and the external tools aren't immediately obvious in terms of use.

Too much grading to do today to be able to explore interesting-looking aggregation tools like AmphetaDesk. Maybe later this week, once projects are graded and lectures are done. Maybe.

advice well taken

In his comment on my "balancing acts" post, Joi Ito suggested that I read Ten Tips on Writing the Living Web, so I did.


I love the term "the living web." I remember back in '93 when the web was being born, and it felt so new and changeable and full of promise. Commercialization and professionalization of the web has changed that...but blogs seem to be bringing that sense of wonder back.

Clearly, I need to find a way to begin integrating the concept of the living web into my teaching. I'm tired of teaching web development as a mechanical task, rather than a creative endeavour. And perhaps the key to getting them to write better is in fact to get them to write more often, and more quickly, with less riding on each word that they provide.

the power of fear


It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to believe things that are frightening--and how skeptical they are about things that are good.

Case in point. I really enjoy Joi Ito's weblog, but he recently posted a link to the fear-mongering "Aspartame is poison" site. This site tosses around plenty of frightening numbers associated with the risks of ingesting aspartame...but none of them are from reputable, peer-reviewed sources. So I searched on aspartame in PubMed, and found at least two articles from peer-reviewed medical journals that refute this.

So why is it that we're so much more inclined to believe the bad than the good? Self-preservation, because we're less likely to be disappointed? Odds, because we've had more bad experiences than good? Or something else? I don't see this in my kids nearly as much as I do in adults--they're generally skeptical of threats ("mom's probably wrong...that steam doesn't look hot enough to burn me"), but optimistic about positive outcomes.

scary things


David Weinberger points out in "scary google"that google knows more than you think:

1. Go to google.com 2. Type in your phone number, in quotation marks 3. When it finds your name and address, click on "Maps" 4. You are here.

Meanwhile, what happens when you look at the collective mind of the surfers around you? Rob Flickenger writes in O'ReillyNet about "Tapping the alpha geek noosphere with EtherPEG".

remembering what matters.

It's time to put the computer away, and spend some time with my son. After reading Tony Woodlief's blog post about his daughter Caroline's death, and then the story of her life, I realize I'm wasting precious time in front of the computer.

laughter is the best medicine

A colleague (Andy Phelps) turned me onto The Everyday Happenings of Weebl and Bob. Fabulous site. Hours of mindless fun.

Also funny are the shockwave videos at RatherGood. The two I like best are Independent Woman (aka "if destiny's child were kittens from northern england this is what they would sound like") and Pavarotti Loves Elephants.

too many books, too little time

Books I want to read (or re-read) seem to be popping up everywhere. PopTech probably spurred some of this...I came home with a signed copy of True Names with related essays, and with a hankering for Small Pieces Loosely Joined and Smart Mobs, both of which were also for sale there. I want to read the AAUW report Tech Savvy, the book on CMUs attempt to improve the number of women in its CS fields--Unlocking the Clubhouse, and reread Turkle's The Second Self. When, o when, will I find the time?

balancing acts


How do the active bloggers do it? How do they fit the time to shape their words and post their entries in between all of the other things that life demands. While I'm delighted and intrigued by this medium, and filled with ideas about the research potential lurking within the communities and communication channels of bloggers and blogs, it's hard to find the time to think clearly enough to articulate those thoughts in a way that I'd want the rest of the world to read.

The best of the blogs seem to be very plugged into the feedback loop--referencing each other, building on each other's post. So it's not just the writing that consumes time (that may be the easy part, actually). It's the reading, the linking, the responding, the connection-building.

For me, at least, there's also a sense of vulnerability in posting my words to a public place. The very thing that makes this process so interesting--the interlinking and cross-reading--also makes it feel risky. You have to strike a balance between the immediacy of stream-of-consciousness writing, and the careful phrasing of public words that can come back to haunt you.

...is this thing on?

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So I'm jumping on the blog bandwagon, along with a surprisingly large number of technologically forward-thinking netizens. I feel a little behind (under? swamped by?) the wave on this--usually I'm an early adopter of new communication technologies, and this time I'm coming in well after the technology has mainstreamed. But hurt pride aside, I'm fascinated by the potential of this medium. Not so much the personal publishing per se, but the interconnections among blogs, and the nonlinear concept-based path you can take through content once those interconnections are well-established. And the reputation/value issue--as more people link to your thoughts and comments, the more people who want to read them, and in turn want to read the blogs of the people you link to. Distributed processing at its very best. The "TrackBack" concept of cross-linking sites is really intriguing.

So the questions I'm pondering right now have to do with establishment, expansion, and gatekeeping of these interconnected webs of opinion and personal thoughts. One blog alone doesn't mean a whole lot...but a set of intertwined ideas that leads you to broaden your thinking means a great deal.

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