December 2002 Archives

piracy? plagiarism? or... ?

Zeldman pointed me towards an entertaining site that shows examples of "design piracy."

Made me realize that I've actually got mixed feelings about the whole idea of "design piracy"...when is it inspiration, and when is it piracy? How much is enough when you're changing /modifying/drawing upon an existing design?

And on the legal side, it's not clear to me the extent to which "site design" can be copyrighted. The guidelines on what constitutes "design" don't provide clear guidance. It's easier for me to understand how copyright governs the text of a site, and the individual images in it. But what about the kinds of font/graphic combinations that the site linked above displays? Are they over the line legally? Ethically? And where is that line?

In my web design classes, we have to talk regularly about the difference between copyright protection (what the law allows--which, in the context of school-related assignments, is pretty broad) and academic honesty (which I tend to be a stickler about). I tell them that I'm all in favor of them "standing on the shoulders of giants" by using code--and designs--created by others. But I want them to explicitly give credit for what they use. If it's visual, the credit needs to be on a sources page, or on the page displaying the item. If it's code, it needs to be in the comments, as well as listed on a sources page. I tell them that using someone else's work without crediting it results in an F for academic dishonesty...but that using the same work and crediting it can end up an A for ingenuity. And despite that warning, many of them fail to provide credit. They don't seem to "get" that I can (a) identify a shift in coding or design style by looking at it, and (b) find the source in a heartbeat. Disheartening.

game addiction

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Hi, my name is Liz, and I'm a game-aholic.

It's true. I am incredibly susceptible to the siren song of RPGs, especially those that emphasize exploration and communication rather than battles and agility. Among my various passions have been Zork (the real Zork, the early Zork, the "it is dark, there are grues" Zork) and the rest of the InfoCom games, DragonBane for the Palm, and all of the Pokémon gameboy games. In fact, when we bought my son a GBC for Christmas three years ago (when he was in kindergarten, and caught the Pokémon bug), my husband had to go out two days later and buy me my own, because Lane wasn't getting to play.

It's a classic addict's pattern...once I start a game, I can't stop playing. To "just say no" seems an impossibility. I become immersed in the game. I want to master every task, learn every inch of the terrain, solve every puzzle, learn every cheat code. I can spend hours playing, to the detriment of other things going on around me.

This time around, it's Animal Crossing that's captured me, and dragged me into the abyss. What is it about games like this that I find so seductive? Clearly, this one has some holding power, despite its lousy graphics and clunky interface. Not only are the kids and I fighting over the controller, but a bit of reading online made it clear that plenty of folks have been sucked into this silly virtual world.

When my husband ridiculed the less-than-realistic graphics, it got me to thinking about something Alvy Ray Smith said at Pop!Tech this year. "At Pixar, we have a word for things that are almost human, but not quite: monster." Perhaps that's when games like Pokémon and Animal Crossing work for me...they don't make any pretense at being lifelike. The cartoonish world they offer is unpretentious, uncomplicated, easy to navigate. The rules are clear. The FAQs are online. Unlike my real life, for which I've yet to find a comprehensive FAQ.

would you like caffeine with that t-1 connection?

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Testing out T-Mobile's "hotspot" connection in my local Starbucks today, since RIT is closed for the break and I can't use the free wifi on campus. I've got a free "daypass" to test this network (they gave out coupons months ago, and I saved mine), and another free daypass from my husband to escape the squabbling siblings in my living room. That, a non-fat vanilla latte, and I'm one happy camper.

Except...my connection keeps dropping, intermittently. Every 3-20 minutes (length varies), the IP hiccups, and the provider logs me out. I log backin, and everything's fine. But it's playing havoc with my attempts to IM from my comfy chair, so I've given up on iChat and have turned my attention back to my poor, neglected blog.

My mind really has been a blank regarding blogging lately. Everything I have to say has seemed so confined in interest, or a violation of someone's privacy, or just plain dumb. So I've been surfing other people's blogs, becoming increasingly convinced that the rest of the blogging world is infinitely more articulate than I am. (No, this is not an attempt to elicit encouraging messages. Really. It's a phase. It will pass. But if you were thinking of sending one, thanks. :-)

I brought my stack of XSLT books to Starbucks with me, and have yet to crack one. Guess I'm still not ready to stop being on vacation. But once I am, the two priorities are (a) XSLT in preparation for class, and (b) figuring out if it's realistic to try to go for a blog-related grant, given that most of the people who expressed interest are already overcommitted.

But for today, I'm going to grab another cup o' java from the baristas, curl up in this chair (I do miss the maroon wingbacks they used to have, but this brown velvet will have to do), and surf blogs to my hearts' content. Maybe something will move to me to respond. Maybe not. Either way, it's an excellent way to spend a cold, gray, rainy afternoon as the year comes to an end.

sense of wonder

I spent this evening with my six-year-old, Alex. We went to McDonald's for dinner, because the "Mighty Kids Meal" has the coveted Yu-Gi-Oh cards that he and his brother are collecting. Alas, they were out of the cards. But we ate there anyways, and as I sat there across from him at the table, watching him devour his chicken nuggets and fries, I had one of those moments where I was simply overwhelmed by the enormity of parenthood. This amazing creature, so beautiful, so bright, so full of surprises and life and love...how is it possible that I (we) created him? There are few feelings as powerful as looking at a human being and knowing that you had a hand in his or her existence.

When I met my husband, he was still involved with the work of Gurdjieff, and he spent some time explaining the ideas of that group to me. I can't say that much of it took, but one thing did. It was the concept of being/becoming awake. Gurdjieff holds that most of us spend our lives asleep...walking through life not fully awake and aware of it. We have moments, however, when we are more awake. And as my husband explained it to me, those are the moments we remember best out of our past--the moments where we feel as though we are outside of ourselves, looking in. That's what happened tonight, for moment...I was alive, aware, and intensely grateful.

Now we're home, and have slipped back into our sleep. This week, I'm grateful for the mental rest that this sleeping state provides. I've turned off the part of my brain that says "work! prep for class! learn new technologies! faster!" Unfortunately, that seems to have turned off the part that blogs, but I'm working on waking that back up now--hopefully without the work-related tension to accompany it.

One of things that's helped with the detachment is our Christmas Day acquisition (or at least unwrapping) of a brand-new GameCube, complete with the game that I really wanted, Animal Crossing. And it's as addictive as I'd expected (and hoped). Both the boys agree--we're all hooked. I'm not even willing to admit how many hours we've logged on the game since we opened it. (But I will tell you that Lane has woken me before 7am for two days in a row, demanding that I turn on the game--not as easy as it sounds, since we have an outrageously complicated entertainment system in the living room, and I like the game too much to banish it to the disaster area that the boys call their room.)

So that's all the news from the Lawley household, where tonight I'm curled up on the couch watching the surprisingly enjoyable Country Bears with Alex, waiting for Lane and Gerald to get back from the Amerks hockey game. Life is good.

more archival kid conversations

This from April 2001, account provided by my mother:

Lane and Alex are sitting in the back of the car: as usual, I can hear much but not all of what they are saying, and I participate in moderation. Just how this conversation began I am not sure.

Lane: I don't believe in religion or evolution. I don't believe in Adam.

Me: You believe in Santa Claus, though.

Lane: Okay, but not in evolution.

Me: Well, you like science and a lot of scientists do believe in evolution. How come you don't?

Lane: Because I am not a monkey!

Alex laughs. I make ineffective attempts at clarification which are ignored.

Lane: Okay, Al, I'll tell you how it was. First there was a pile of mud or something like that. Then a lot of animals came by and each one gave something. Like the bird gave its butt. And maybe the cat gave eyes. And some animal gave a nose, but which one ...

Me: It's hard to think of an animal with a nose that would be right for you, huh?

Alex reaches over to pinch Lane's nose. Lane retaliates. I scold and am ignored. Alex says, "Poopy Lane." Theoretical discussion ends with raucous laughter as boys decide to engage in the verbal experiment of applying to every noun that comes to mind the adjective "poopy." It is clear they have a great future as poets and intellectuals.

kids and santa

As I was cleaning out my e-mail (again), I found this message from my mother, dated August 2000, in which she recounts a conversation between my children (who were then ages 6 and 3.5):

Today in the car Lane and Alex were discussing the reality of Santa Claus (I gather the North Pole has been much on TV news, and they noticed Santa's workshop was not located or photographed). They want to know what I think, but I manage to get away without answering. Lane is holding out for Santa's reality, but Alex thinks grown-ups could dress up like Santa and just get presents from the stores. The presents do look like they come from stores, don't they? Lane claims the stores get them from Santa, but he does not seem convinced by his own argument. Finally he says, Well, I know Santa is real because I *personally* talked with him on the phone. Alex then does a very good Santa imitation, Ho Ho Ho, and Lane joins in. They agree they sound like excellent Santas. And then, they look at each other a little amazed by what they almost figured out.

I think my mom needs a blog. But she says writing publicly like this would make her uneasy. :-(

ho-ho-hosting woes

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After too many years of billing errors, DNS outages, and other woes, I've finally moved lawley.net to a new hosting service...with other domains to follow suit shortly. It took a long time to find a place that would give me the range of services I need, at a reasonable price. On the "must have" list are mySQL, majordomo, telnet or SSH access, and plenty of storage space and transfer allotments. All that, and reliability and low price, too. Not an easy combination. CIHost had given me all the features I wanted for $23/month (quarterly), but the reliability just wasn't cutting it.

Spent a long time yesterday researching--from rating sites to company sites to google groups searches to find a place I might be happy parking my beloved domain names. Finally ended up with Web Intellects, which seems to have the right combination of price/performance/features to meet my demanding needs. Made the switch last night, reconfigured the DNS entry, and voilá voilà*! All seems to be well. Web site is up, majordomo lists are working, email accounts are all live.

The price is good...$24.95 for the "webmaster" account, which lets me host up to 5 different domains (real hosting for each, not redirection to a subdirectory). Not bad for only $1.95 increase in monthly cost. If I only had one domain, I could go with the $18.95 hosting version, which has the same feature set. And the reviews on webhostingratings.com are quite good. (I note that CIHost has "requested removal of reviews of its services." Why am I not surprised?) Keeping my fingers crossed...

The only snag was that my OS X beta version of Eudora (haven't paid for the upgrade) doesn't want to pick up mail using encryption. The good part is that's going to finally force me to make the switch to mail.app that I was going to make over the Thanksgiving break.
--
*<vent>It drives me nuts when people spell this "wah-lah" in their writing. I know it's petty, but for some reason it's become a linguistic hot-button for me. And I see it everywhere these days, it seems.</vent>

chocoholics delight

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Spent the afternoon cooking, instead of blogging. Treats for the departmental office workers (and my kids). chocolate truffles, rich cocoa fudge, and my favorite, double chocolate walnut biscotti. All three recipes pass the kid test with flying colors.

The truffles are a big messy to make (much to the kids' delight, of course), and have to be kept refrigerated after they're made. But they're a huge hit with everyone who gets them as a gift. This was our first time out with the fudge, but the taste tests along the way indicate that this will be a favorite in the future. (Despite the overly long time in front of the stove, stirring the mixture and waiting for it to hit the magic 234 degree temperature.)

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend the afternoon and evening.

hark! the ad hominen angel sings!

Okay, so maybe angel is a little strong. But it's certainly a theme of his.

Who? Chris Locke, of course. Who has a brand-spanking-new blog, complete with brand name, over at Corante--home of a number of excellent topical blogs.

Of course, by mentioning my admiration for Chris' writing--in the new blog, and the old--I open myself up to accusations that I've joined the cult of personality that has captured the hearts and minds of far too many good women. So be it. The writing's worth it. Really.

From today's column:

Scary. And beautiful. Magnificent, in fact. What we are seeing today on the web -- discounting the plethora of corporate spew -- is the emergence of ourselves as human beings discovering what it means to be human. If you're not doing that, do it. Spook yourself. If you're already spooked, don't quit now. We've only begun to scratch the surface. Why is the net getting so much pushback from the top-down hierarchies of power that freak if they can't control everything. Because it's working, that's why. We're giving ourselves permission to be outlaws

That's all for now. I think I hear da boss massa callin'.

Success!!!

One of my students writes in her blog:

I'm really surprised how much I've figured out with CSS just today trying to make this blog look cool.

This is exactly the kind of enthusiastic exploration of the technology that I had hoped would happen if I used blogs as the centerpiece for teaching web technologies.

Meanwhile, on other fronts, people like Shelley Powers and Simon St. Laurent have been reading and commenting on my XML class's blog. What a nice note on which to start my winter break...

blogging census?

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How many blogs are there, anyhow? Sébastien Paquet has been collecting information on the topic: Weblogs By The Numbers.

Interesting topic...and perhaps an interesting graduate project topic for one of my students, too.

There are really two questions...one is how many bloggers, the other is how many blogs. People like Joi Ito are using multiple tools...he uses Movable Type, Radio Userland, and LiveJournal, along FotoLog and other tools. So he counts as one blogger, but with four or five blogs.

The "how many bloggers" almost has to be done with survey research. The how many blogs may well be doable technically, but it will need a lot of work. (If it were easy, TechnoRati wouldn't keep showing all of my archive pages as separate blogs pointing to me...)

Updated, 12/17

Interview with Cameron Marlow, creator of Blogdex and researcher at MIT Media Lab.

Right now Blogdex is crawling about 16,500 weblogs. This number has been as high as 22,000 and as low as 12,000 (when the index started). While there may have been 1.6 million weblogs created in the past 3 years, only a small percentage of those are still active, and an even smaller number are updated frequently.

kravings

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Krispy Kreme Hot Now Sign dietvc.gifMust...resist...temptation. Don't want to undo my virtuous treadmill/weights accomplishments of this weekend and this morning. But just thinking about that amazing waterfall of glaze pouring over the doughnuts...<sigh>


So instead I will console myself with a Diet Vanilla Coke. Didn't know this was out until a student told me Friday, at which point I rushed to the grocery store and stocked up big time. I loved Vanilla Coke when it came out, but I just can't bring myself to ingest that much sugar per sip. Didn't know a diet version was coming out, so this was a wonderful surprise. (Image via DiamondBlog.)

outlines and boundaries

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My conversation with Alex yesterday got me thinking a lot about outlines and how they affect writing.

While Alex was talking about outlines in the sense of the boundaries of physical form, and not as a tool for organizing text, the two aren't so very far apart. Outliners impose a specific structure on writing. They produce clear boundaries between sections, and between what's "in" the writing and what's "out." In some cases, that's a useful and valuable thing. I can't imagine writing a grant proposal or research paper without an outline as a strting point. Outlines are ideal for syllabi, and conference presentations. In those contexts, I love them.

But I wouldn't use an outline for a poem. Or for an e-mail message to a friend. I don't use one for my blogging. In those contexts, I don't want the hierarchical structure that an outline imposes. And I don't want the choppiness and bulleted item feel that they encourage. In my classes, in fact, I've stopped using Powerpoint, because when I use it I find I lose the students. It becomes a series of discrete points, not an analog stream. I lose the sense of narrative that makes the classroom come alive for me. Does that mean nobody should ever use PowerPoint in the classroom? Of course not. And in some heavily fact-focused lectures I still use it to make sure that everything gets covered; I just don't like for it to be the basis for all of my presentations.

Dave and Doc both think blogs are essentially outlines. And that shows in the kinds of blogs they maintain. Many of the journalistic blogs seem to have a "bullet points" feel to them. But just because their blogs are outlines doesn't mean that all blogs are outlines. Shelley says "this-is-not-an-outline-dammit", and I have to say that I agree with her--not just about her site, but also about mine, and about quite a few others.

The variation in style and presentation from blog to blog is part of what I love about reading them. That's a big part of why I don't use an aggregator to read my blogroll. The look and feel of Baldur's blog is so very different from Jill's, or from Dorothea's, or from Alex's. To detach them from their visual components, and reduce them to outline headings and text, is to fundamentally change their meaning.

I love Dave & Doc's blogs. I read them every day, I depend on them for all kinds of news and information--about blogging, about conferences, about web services, about the tech zeitgeist. But their blogging style doesn't fit everyone (nor do the tools they use). And if we all blogged alike, we'd all be poorer for it.

omnipresent outlines

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The topic du jour in blogaria...and in my house, it seems...is outlines.

Doc says all blogs are outlines. The Supernova bloggers all seemed to report some version of Dave Winer saying that "everything is an outline."

So this morning, I decided to try the OmniOutliner tool that I read about on Joi's blog.

Here's the scary part. As I was reading through the docs, and trying to puzzle out the tool, my six-year-old son Alex was lying on the prayer rug in our living room, tracing the designs with his finger. And he suddenly said "Mom, why does everything have to have an outline?"

Huh? He couldn't see my screen from where he's sitting. I was temporarily speechless, since he seemed to have given voice to my thoughts, and I couldn't fathom how that had happened.

Then I realized that he was talking about the outlines of the images on the rug.

So here's the dialog that followed...

Me: They don't.

Alex: Name one thing that doesn't.

Me: Air.

Alex: [frustrated sigh] I mean things you can see.

Me: Well, what do you mean by "an outline"?

Alex: [in voice reserved for talking with very stupid adults] An *outline*, mom. You *know* what I mean.

Me: Well, if you mean an edge, or a boundary, you may be right. If you mean a line around the outside, lots of things don't have an outline...like the chair you're next to.

Alex: That's *not* what I mean. You just don't get it.

[Which, alas, seems to be true more and more often as they get older.]

ack

Went to the departmental holiday party...ate, drank, and was merry. Came home to an inbox full of messages from students asking what had happened to my web site. Checked it...or tried to. It was gone. No trace of my account. No syllabi. No links pages. Worst of all, no blog. It was like walking out to the parking lot and finding your car stolen. Or coming home and finding your belongings out on the street. Vertigo-inducing.

Happily, our sysadmin actually answered a page at 5:30pm on a Friday--after a holiday party. Wow. NIS errors corrected, web site reappears, I can breathe again.

words to live by

From salon.com, the last article in a series called "Permanent Vacation," about a family that sold their house and belongings and went on the road for two years.

Because I'm less fearful, I'm also less angry. I don't get mad at telemarketers or rude drivers or long waits in slow lines. I don't need to watch my back, and I don't assume that mechanics or insurance companies or the guy who just sold me a broken dryer is out to screw me. (Well, maybe he was, but I made him fix the dryer.) I haven't become a patsy; I've just decided that peace is an absurd price to pay for indulging in anger and fear. And that eliminates a huge reservoir of bad energy -- the kind that makes you sick.

wow

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I've been reading Mark Pilgrim's blog for a couple of weeks, mostly because of his great stuff on tech topics I'm interested in.

Stopped by there today, and his post on addiction blew me away.

This is what makes blogs so amazing. That you can be browsing for XML and end up deep inside someone's head. It shakes you up. It makes you remember that it's a big world out there, with scary things and beautiful things and amazing people who write about both.

ideas at blog speed

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Wow. Watching an idea spread through the blogosphere is a very cool thing. Glad this is happening on a day when I'm not stuck in classrooms!

Dave Winer posted his idea about a blogging conference this morning. Shelley Powers chimed in with some great posts about the conference here and here. Anita Rowland commented on Shelley's post, pointing out that there's a lot that can be learned about conference-giving from the SF Fandom "cons".

I contacted Dave about the possibility of some collaboration on this related to the grant proposal that Jill, Alex and I are working on (along with Joi, possibly...), and he's enthusiastic.

And it hasn't even been 24 hours since Dave floated the idea. Blink in blogworld and you miss a lot. :-)

multimedia authoring wars

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In his musings on his PhD work, Baldur said something that made me laugh, since it's been an area of conflict/discussion/debate in our department for some time. Our "multimedia" courses are split into two areas--web development (where I teach) and multimedia development (where I don't). The latter is based solidly on Macromedia Director. My frustrations with that revolve around the problems inherent in basing an academic curriculum on a vendor-specific platform. So when I read Baldur's comment:

Most of my colleages here come from the multimedia industry where you use a single monolithic tool to produce a single monolithic file format which can only be used on the exact platforms you feel like implementing and testing on.

Well...it resonated.

I forwarded it to Andy Phelps, my favorite "multimedia" colleague. He can program circles around most people I know (and know of) in everything from Javascript to Lingo to VRML to Java. He's developing our new and very cool game development curriculum (follow the games edu link on his site for more info), and is always willing to play in a debate about proprietary technologies.

He doesn't have a blog (yet...we're working on that), so I asked him for his permission to repost these comments, which I thought were worth sharing. (Baldur's original comments are in italics...)

typing tests

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Personality typing, that is. Jonathon Delacour has been blogging about MBTI and bloggers. He pointed me to the PTypes site...I took their test, but was "unclassifiable" the first time--equal scores on Idealist and Rationalist. (Found that rather gratifying, in some ways.) Second time, I was clearly on the Rationalist side. Mirrors my usual MBTI typing results. I'm off-the-scale E and N, borderline T/F, and pretty solidly J. Keirsey characterizes the ENFJs as teachers, and the ENTJs as field marshals. Both type descriptions fit me, though to varying degrees day to day.

In her discussion of typing, Shelley Powers describes one of the "classic" M-B questions--one that tends to elicit a strong "well, that's obvious" response from takers, regardless of which answer they think is "right":

In the Myer-Briggs test, I felt one of the best examples of this type of question was the one asking which the test taker valued more: justice or mercy. This question, to me, seemed a particularly strong one for determining whether a person is Judging or Perceiving.

I never took a class on personality typing, but I always thought that the justice vs mercy question was more about sensing/intuiting (or maybe thinking/feeling), not judging/perceiving. (The judging/justice similarity is a little misleading, I think.) So, who's been trained in M-B typing, and knows for sure which type aspect this question is a predictor for?

One of the things I've found this kind of typing useful for is understanding the disjoints in communication I sometimes have with my students. The biggest problem seems to come from my "N" tendencies, which conflict with the overwhelmingly "S" tendencies in my students. They want clear grading rubrics, detailed syllabi, lots of structure. I tell them I'll know A work when I see it, and that we'll probably wander from the topics on teh syllabus regularly when it seems appropriate to do so. :-) Now I warn them on the first day, and that seems to help a lot.

blogging perceptions

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Baldur comments on my students' definitions of blogs...

What most of the comments and views have in common is that weblogging seems to be a group process. It is always a part of a community, group topics, a gathering of ideas.

I suspect that this would not have been the common thread if I'd asked them the same question without first having had a discussion with them about the value of blogs as a conversational medium, and the importance of comments and trackbacks in facilitating those conversations.

Speaking of which, Baldur, you really need a comments function on your blog. :-) I got quite dizzy going back and forth between your blog and Dorothea's this morning...the comments and responses were fascinating, but the bouncing back and forth between blogs was disorienting.

In fact, the choice between reciprocal/trackbacked postings and comments is an interesting one. It reminds me a bit of the discussions we're having in my XML class about the choice of attribute vs element in an XML schema...


students' thoughts on blogging

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I asked my web design students to tell me what they thought a blog was.

Their answers are on the class blog.

more conference/classroom cogitation

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So today Aaron Swartz has a post in his weblog on "How to Run a Good Conference." Once again, I find myself thinking about what happens when you substitute "classroom" for "conference," "students" for "audience," and "teachers" for "speakers"...

1. Speech is a bad medium for communicating information. (This one is due to Tufte.) Speech can't be stopped and rewound, it can't be carefully examined, it can't be slowed down, it can't be paused, it can't present complex concepts, and it's really very low bandwidth. Just use paper. Tufte suggested giving the audience a bunch of paper that communicated the important information and have them read through it before hand.

2. Speech is a good medium for dialog. (Also due to Tufte.) Speech is best used for interaction. Are you sure that's correct? Have you seen this? Why didn't you go this way? Smart people love discussing things with other smart people, especially when the others are informed (see point 1). Let them!

Every conference I can think of gets these two things backwards. They use valuable face-to-face time for worthless presentations by people who are not particularly entertaining and even if they were are saying things you already know, and then try and stifle discussion (one question per person, sir!) and shunt it off towards lunch or something (we don't have time for questions now). Hello? What did all these people come out here for? I can watch infomercials at home just fine, thanks.

3. Get smart people and encourage them to talk. Now this one is a bit difficult. Most conferences seem to use a large mass of "normal" people (the "audience" to subsidize the "special" people (the "speakers"). Since I tend to be in the latter group and don't have much money, I sort of like this. But the annoying side-effects are that "special" people don't get to discuss things with each other and "normal" people waste everybody's time by asking stupid questions. I'm not sure how to solve this. Maybe only let "special" people ask questions? I suspect this would seriously hurt the feel of the event.

poetic license

From a class blog post by one of my XML students:

The Semantic Web... in Haiku

decentralizing course content?

From the conference blog for SUPERNOVA, this post on "Decentralizing the Conference" had some resonance for me in thinking about the classroom experience. What happens when we substitute "classroom" for "conference" in this paragraph? (This is the same thought I kept having at Pop!Tech this year...)

I'm convinced, though, that distributed online communications can enhance physical events. Many conferences ban blogging, or refuse to provide any live coverage on the Web. The theory is that any public exposure will make people less likely to pay the registration fee. I think that's short-sighted. If prospective attendees aren't convinced of the value of the conference, no amount of hiding the content will help.

We'll see if the class blogs I've set up for my Web Design and XML classes add value by decentralizing content...

Siemens on Blogging

George Siemens has a two part article on blogging online, the first part of which is a nice summary of many other bloggers-on-blogging, along with useful discussion of blogging in educational context. The second part addresses "how to" aspects of blogging.

The Art of Blogging - Part 1, and The Art of Blogging - Part 2.

what's a mother to do?

Tonight Lane and I had a long talk about the way he's sometimes teased at school. It's hard to be a smart, sensitive kid--he gets pegged as "weird" by kids with a small-sized worldview, and it stings. There's enough he likes about school and his friends that we haven't pushed the homeschooling option (he doesn't want to do it now), but it worries me.

And it worries me even more when I read articles like this one from a Portland newspaper: Slam site an eye-opening look at cruelty of middle-schoolers:

The rumors. The name-calling. The cruelty. The profanity. The threats. The humiliation.

It was all there, right on the computer screen, on what school kids call a secret slam site. Leigh could not believe what she was seeing. "I was appalled," she says. "The first thing I saw was about a girl my son had known in grade school. She was a neat kid, and they were talking about wanting her to be raped and shot. And they used her name."

I can't help but wonder if the kinds of kids who start and post to sites like the one described in this article have the kinds of parents who send nastily worded anonymous letters to their neighbors.

i need a "grunch" category

Like Dorothea's.

Yesterday's mail brought an anonymous note from "a neighbor" complaining about the appearance of our backyard. Seems likely it came from the people directly behind us, whom we don't know well. The neighbors on our street all know us by name, and would have no problem either signing such a letter or--more likely--knocking on our door to ask politely for us to clean something up.

It's made me extremely grumpy this morning, for two reasons. First, I know we've let the area behind the pool get messy (the kids use it as their "fort" and I've tried to ignore it entirely), so I feel guilty about the appearance, which of course makes me defensive. Second, and more importantly, I hate this kind of cowardly anonymous approach. I'm pretty sure it comes from the same people who regularly prance around naked with their curtains open, providing visuals not much more appealing to us than our backyard is to them.

The "grunchy" part of me wants to make a big sign for the backyard inviting anyone who has a problem with it to show their cowardly face at our front door, because we don't respond to anonymous letters. But the fact that I feel sheepish about letting the kids see that response means that it probably isn't a wise idea, and I should wait 'til I cool off before deciding whether to respond directly.

Yes, of course we should clean that area up (not a pleasant thought given the sub-freezing temps and healthy coating of snow out there). But I so don't want to give them the idea that this kind of un-neighborly approach is effective. <sigh>

blogresearch update

I've posted a lengthy entry in blogresearch with my thoughts on the upcoming NSF grant opportunity, and possible directions for that research.

r-e-s-p-e-c-t...

No less a source than the Wall Street Journal reports:

"Today, there�s a newfound respect for librarians," says Ms. Warner. This change in thinking is due mainly to the information overload that�s afflicting many businesses worldwide.

poetic license

More creative work from my son. (I had a choice between posting this, and a rumination on "public good," responsibility, and academic departments. I decided this was the safest way to go. More on the latter when I'm able to shape it carefully enough not to do damage.)

Over the ice people stride, they always like to slip and slide.

I wish I could do it all year round,
it's fun to jump up and down!

The snow is very wet and fluffy,
I also think it is puffy.

The ice is very slippery,
and when I slide on it I yell "WHEE!"!

Some people think snow is a nuisance,
but that is definitely not my two cents!
   -Lane Lawley

creative writing

Tonight I'm an especially proud mother. My 8-year-old son, Lane, wrote a lovely story this evening that I think is good enough to share. I have not modified the story in any way from the original (typed in SimpleText on his aging iMac...he's agitating for an iBook for Christmas).

Neodude's Big Adventure

Once upon a time, there was a superhero that went by the name of Neodude. He
was a head custodian at a CGI imaging company. His real name is Henry Johnson. He had a 12 year old friend named Laura. Once, they almost got the whole world destroyed, but before I tell you that story I have to tell you this story. Laura and Neodude were eating grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Laura was playing solitare on her powerbook G3 when, suddenly it caught a virus! Flabbergasted, Neodude sprayed it with his virus-b-gone (tm) spray. "Thanks!" Laura said. "No problem!" Neoman Neodude said heroically. Across the world, there was an evil man named Dr. E-mail. He got his PHD in evil. He had a powerbook G4 himself. On it, he stored a lot of evil plans. Now, I can tell you the story of Neomans big adventure. When Dr. E-mail was watching television, Neodude sent him an e-mail saying "Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!". This made Dr. E-mail so mad, he constructed yet another evil plan. It was to, kidnap Laura, shrink and e-mail Neodude, and take over the world! So, he sent Neodude a hypertext URL saying http://www.virus.com/ which sucked him into the computer and right into the clutches of klez-e himself! Neodude saw a pop- up saying, "home page". He hits it and it takes him to Dr. E-mail's desktop. He hits print, saves Laura, and stops Dr. Email from destroying the world with his wrist laser. He gets home just in time for dinner.

The End

Parents of grade school kids may recognize the Dav Pilkey flavor to the writing. :-) The neodude/neoman confusion is due to the fact that his 3rd grade teacher feels that "dude" is inappropriate for use in his writing, so he's trying to train himself to write neoman rather than neodude--though it's obviously a struggle.

So, if you like the story, and are so inclined, you might want to drop him an e-mail at lane at lawley dot net, and encourage him.

cool os x tool

Joi Ito has made the switch to the Mac, and visitor to his blog posted a URL to this very cool OS X background service called SearchGoogle. It allows you to select text in almost any application, and press "shift-apple-g" to launch a google search for that text.


brouhaha in blogaria

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The recent brouhaha in blogaria has left me with quite a feeling of d�ja vu. [drat...can't figure out how to generate the accent grave for the a...]

Why? For nearly seven years, I've been a member of a mailing list of women who had children in September/October of '96. Every couple of years, somebody posts something that sets off a similar firestorm. From bottle vs breast to responses to 9/11. And each time there have been harsh words, real hurt, and people who've left the community. Most of the time, they come back. Not always. The process is almost always accompanied by non-combatants wringing their virtual hands and expressing fears that the community has finally self-destructed, that it will never the same again. But then the rhetoric calms, the participants retreat to lick their wounds. Off the radar, apologies are often exchanged. Sometimes it takes a while. But the community endures, and even strengthens. Those who left are welcomed back. And we move on.

Perhaps things will be different in blogaria. But I suspect not. It's populated by the same kinds of people as the mailing list I'm on. Caring, articulate, passionate people who can hurt themselves as well as each other, but who gain so much from their participation that they're willing to work through the conflicts.

girlism/feminism/femininity

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So a few days ago, Halley posts this piece on "girlism." And all h*ll breaks out in the blogging circles in in which she "lives" (not sure which ones I live in yet, but I've been spending some time checking out the houses on her street...).

The thread has been picked up and nearly beaten to death on a number of blogs, from Shelley's to Dorothea's to Mike's to Doc's to...(well, if you're interested, you can follow the links and trackbacks). And I do mean to death, complete with "collateral damage." Perhaps the least harmful of the responses came from AKMA, who I was rather hoping would weigh in. :-)

I've participated up 'til now in an e-mail discussion on this topic, and haven't blogged about it. For a couple of reasons, really. It's interesting...e-mail still feels ephemeral to me, even though I know it's far from private (particularly when sent to a list of people, as these were), and can be archived indefinitely. Still, I feel more comfortable speaking off-the-cuff in e-mail than I do here in my blog--particularly on issues that have such emotional heft.

When it comes to feminism and gender issues, I'm particularly cautious about writing publicly, because I know that as a female professor in a technology field I'm a role model--whether I want to be or not. I know my students read this blog--as do my parents, my friends, and my colleagues. So speaking here is very much "on the record." Nevertheless, I'm going to chance this mine-field of a topic.

I spoke up in defense of Halley's original post, and I stand by that. I consider myself a feminist. Unlike Halley, I don't think feminism is dead. And I definitely don't agree with her assessment that it only encompassed lesbian sexuality to begin with. But one of the reasons that I--and, I think, many other women--have become frustrated with feminism is its renouncement of...well...femininity.

In Shelley's blog, she reposts and comments on comments by Suzanne, in which she expresses concerns with "girlism" because it's limited to those with the physical attributes to use it. But all strengths, all power, is unbalanced. Some women aren't beautiful, true. (Though far more are than realize it.) But some women aren't smart. Some women aren't hard-working. Some women aren't charismatic. Life's just not fair.

What perplexes me about all of this discussion is the massive generalization. Why does feminism have to be dead in order for girlism to exist? Why does girlism have to be for everyone or for no one? Why can't we each tap into our own sources of power, and trust each other to use those powers for good and not for evil?

Jeneane wants to know more about where Halley's ideas on girlism really come from. I know where mine do, and I'm guessing (in part based on her past posts about exercise) that hers may come from a similar place. In the past two years, I've made a conscious decision to change the way I live, and to pay more attention and respect to my body. That meant going to the gym regularly, and changing the way I eat. It was hard work. Still is. But the payoff was a newfound sense of living in my own skin, and appreciation for my body. I didn't want to hide that under shapeless sweats--I wanted to show it off. Wearing shapely clothes, sexy underwear, CFM boots...that all made me feel good. And a side benefit to that was the "jiu-jitsu" effect that AKMA talks about. The men who tended to view me as an object were flummoxed. And I was okay with that. More than okay--delighted. I loved watching people who had no problem ignoring me (or worse) when I felt like a shlump caught so suddenly off guard.

On the other hand, the men who saw me as an intelligent, collegial co-worker were appreciative but not signficantly affected. I was equally okay with that. (And, I might add, that included the vast majority of the men I know and work with.)

That's why I find this particular sort of "power" so entertaining. It only works against those who are already in a mental place that doesn't have anything to do with the ways I'd like to be valued in the workplace.

There's more to say on all of this, but at least I got a few words out. Now it's time to duck-and-cover, since posting on this seems guaranteed to bring out the fangs in in all and sundry.

instant messaging issue

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I love iChat. But the problem with it--and every other instant messaging tool I've used--is the awkwardness of making a casual acknowledgment of someone else's presence.

For example, if I walk into a crowded room and spot an acquaintance on the other side I know, I can wave, smile, and continue talking to the people near me (or not) without feeling any pressure to cross the room and strike up a conversation. But in all the IM environments I"ve used, there's no "wave/smile" acknowledgment mechanism. I have to either ignore the person, or engage in an exchange of messages that may turn out to be time-consuming, and that requires someone to actively break it off at some point.

Is there an IM tool out there that does this? A casual "ping" sort of thing, so that when you see someone log on, you can acknowledge them without starting a conversation? It would almost have to be non-verbal, I think...

Okay. Enough procrastination. Back to work.

distractions

My husband and I spend a lot of time telling our sons to "stay focused." On breakfast, on finding their shoes, on finishing their homework...they're forever being distracted from the task at hand.

While it drives them nuts, the alternative can be worse--as I'm finding out today. Nobody told me to stay focused during this appallingly short break I've been on. So tonight I find myself frantically building syllabi in anticipation of tomorrow's classes.

It's not that I haven't taught these classes before. But as I've noted earlier, I'm revising my teaching approach pretty significantly, including the use of blogs as a teaching tool. Not only will the students be blogging their readings and interesting site finds, but we'll be installing and customizing Movable Type so that they learn CSS, SSI, .htaccess, etc in a concrete context.

The concept is fine, but it requires a shuffling of topics and presentation. Which then invalidates my previous schedule of assignments. Which then requires a rethinking of the assessment process. The more time I spend on this, the more time I realize it's taking. But I really do feel I should have a relatively accurate syllabus when I walk in the door of the lab tomorrow at 8am--it's a contract between me and the students, and the basis for their decision as to whether or not to stay in an early morning class during a Rochester winter.

Meanwhile, the XML class looms at 4pm tomorrow. But I think I can get through the first meeting of that with less trouble. (Famous last words...?)

So blog entries and blog reading have dropped to the bottom of the priority pile for the short term. I'm missing it already!

interesting entry points

I succumbed to curiousity last week, and installed a package (phphits) that tracks referrers to my blog. (I wanted something that didn't require parsing of our enormous departmental server log files, and didn't want to set a cookie on visitors' machines.)

Today, I found some interesting search engine queries that led people here. There were four separate searches (from different domains) on "scary things," along with one for "how do I start a blog", one for "sweet potato and turnip gratin," one for "food glorious food," and one for "pecan pie picture." I'm puzzled by the first, flattered by the second, and wondering if the last three were looking for me, or found me by coincidence. I'd like to think that they all found what they were looking for once they arrived.

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