September 2006 Archives

contest judging bonus: discovery of book burro!

This year I was once again asked to be a judge in OCLC's second annual software contest, which is open to anyone who develops an applications that takes advantage of OCLC data services (like xISBN, which combines records for multiple editions of a single book, or WorldCat, which provides information on which libraries have an item in their collection).

The winner this year was a very impressive tool called Umlaut, but while I completely appreciate the skills it took to implement, and the value it provides to library patrons, it's not something I'll use on a day-to-day basis.

The runner-up, on the other hand, is something that I've already installed and fallen in love with. It's a fabulous tool called Book Burro, created by Jesse Andrews. Here's the brief description:

Book Burro is a Web 2.0 extension for Firefox and Flock. When it senses your are looking at a page that contains a book, it will overlay a small panel which when opened lists prices at online bookstores such as Amazon, Buy, Half (and many more) and soon whether the book is available at your library.

Once you've installed the extension, anytime you go to a bookstore listing (like the Amazon page shown below) an unobtrusive pane is displayed in the top left corner of your page. By default, it shows you the price for the item on other bookseller sites. But if you configure the extension with your zip code, it also shows you local libraries that have the item, listed in order of distance from you. Suh-weet!



This is a tool that will significantly improve my day-to-day quality of life--both for knowing what the RIT library has so I can borrow it, and for letting me know what they don't have so I can suggest that they order it. And, when I do want to acquire a copy for myself, I'll be able to easily comparison shop without having to go to multiple sites.

i love my new cingular 3125

There's nothing like a new toy to cheer me up after a long day. And I'm happy to report that my brand-new Cingular 3125 has not disappointed in any way. It's beautiful, particularly the lovely analog clock that the external LCD displays when a button is pressed. The keys and the click wheel are a big improvement over my old Audiovox SMT 5600. Reception is surprisingly good, even in our house (typically a cell phone "dead zone"). And it connected flawlessly to RIT's Exchange server today, which means my phone can once again be my primary tool for checking calendars, emails, and to-do lists. Yay!

Now I just need to acquire a Micro SD card so I can put some of my favorite tunes on the phone (and use them to replace the crappy ringtone selection).

scott mccloud's talk at rit

Funny, Scott's hair is grayer than it looked in Understanding Comics. :)

He does a great job of illustrating his talk with fabulous graphics. Static images...sort of. He moves through them very quickly, creating a sort of animation that's driven by his clicking of the remote mouse.

He's focusing on the material from his new book, Making Comics, and talking about the various choices that you have make when you're creating comics of any kind.

my mobile number is changing...again

While we were in Seattle, I got a new cellphone (a smartphone) with a Seattle-based phone number. I don't remember why, but at the time it made sense to have it on an account separate from our Cingular family plan. Now that we're back in Rochester, we've decided it makes more sense financially to consolidate our cell phone plans, so I'm ditching the Seattle number and will have a brand-new 585 mobile phone number.

Unfortunately, that means friends and family will need to update their address books with my information (again). Sorry, everyone.

I'll send out email to people who I'm pretty sure call my mobile on a regular basis. But if you don't get email from me today with that number, drop me a line and I'll send it along.

show_cingular_3125.jpgGiven that we just upgraded all our phones to new equipment , we'll be on these phone numbers for at least two years.

Wait, what's that? You want to know what my new phone looks like? That's it, over there to the left. I'm getting a new Cingular 3125, aka the HTC "StarTrk", because my older Audiovox SMT5600 seems to have bit the dust entirely, refusing to boot properly. My friend Lili has been using one for a while now (she had one from overseas, where it's been available longer), and loves it. I much prefer flip phones to the "candybar" style of the Audiovox. My only concern about the 3125 is whether it will get a decent signal in our house, which is notoriously bad for cell reception. I'll report back after it arrives tomorrow.

goodbye, lilo

When I first started hanging out on Joi Ito's IRC channel, #joiito, one of the people who'd drop in on a regular basis was lilo. In real life, lilo was Rob Levin, founder of freenode--the IRC server network that #joiito was housed on.

Rob didn't just hang out in Joi's channel, of course. Every time I'd create or use a freenode IRC channel at a tech event, lilo would pop in and cheerfully greet friendly "faces" and help with technical problems.

I saw tonight, via AKMA's blog, the sad news that Rob died on September 16th.

I'll miss him. And I'll think of him every time I log into a freenode IRC channel.

community theatre in rochester?

Last year, my 12-year-old took an improvisational acting class that he loved. I'd love for him to stay involved in acting now that we're back in Rochester, and my stepdaughter has also been asking about community theatre options in the area. I did a little Google searching without any compelling results, and then it occurred to me that this would be a good time to tap the hive brain of my readers.

So...anybody know of good acting classes for kids here in Rochester? And/or community theatre programs that would welcome actors of all ages?

(If you don't want to register for a TypeKey account to comment, clicking on the "Work Page" link in the top left corner of this site will take you to a page that gives you my email address.)



It's too bad that the term "fairy" has taken on such a negative meaning in our language, far from the benevolent context of Cinderella's "fairy godmother." If it hadn't, I would have titled this post "fairy stepdaughter," as an homage to the remarkable changes in our household that my fabulous stepdaughter Erin has wrought since she moved in with us a few weeks ago.

I don't know what it is about Erin, but she manages to bring out the best in all of us. Having her in the house on a day to day basis has been such a positive thing. We're all happier. The house is cleaner--not just because she cleans up (which she does, and that's wonderful), but also because she sets an example that the rest of us can cheerfully follow. We're eating family dinners every night, and taking the time to enjoy each other's company.

Actually, as I think about Disney characters, she's really more of a Mary Poppins--but younger, blonder, and with a decidedly more delightful southern accent. And we're lucky to have her.

timely post from presentation zen on scott mccloud's work

I wrote yesterday about Scott McCloud's upcoming visit to RIT. Today I opened up my aggregator and found a post from one of my favorite design-focused blogs, Presentation Zen, on how McCloud's book Understanding Comics informs design of all kinds. There are good reasons why McCloud's book is a favorite not just of aspiring graphic novelists, but also of lovers of graphic design and narrative of all kinds.

Read the post.

Then come to the talk. I'll be there (along with as many of my students I can convince to attend).

scott mccloud @ rit next monday!

Poster for Scott McCloud at RIT on September 18, 2006

w00t! Scott McCloud, author of fabulous books on comics (which are relevant to far more than comic books), is speaking here at RIT next Monday (September 18th), from 3-5pm in Ingle Auditorium.

And it's free!

middle school supply hell

I spent three hours last night sorting, labeling, and organizing school supplies for my older son's first day in middle school. I had a two page list of supplies, organized by subject...English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Home & Careers, Health, Spanish.

Conspicuously absent from his schedule were Art, Music, and Technology. Apparently they get only a half year of each of "exploratory areas," so in January Home & Careers and Health will be replaced by Art and Music. I really don't like that this means he has no classes focused on non-text creativity for the next 4-5 months. Even worse, however, was the discovery that seventh graders at his school have no instruction in technology or computers. They use computers in some classes, apparently, via "mobile labs" of laptop carts that teachers can requisition. But that's not the same as learning about technology. For my kids, that's not a big deal, since they get so much informal instruction at home. But I know that's not true of all their friends, and I'm less than enthusiastic about the curriculum that it looks like he's locked into.

Why aren't we homeschooling again this year? (Regular readers know that we homeschooled both the kids last year in Seattle.) One reason: they don't want to. They missed their friends terribly, and for them school is all about the social networks. The "learning" is a necessary evil they have to suffer through in order to bond with their peers.

At any rate, the supplies. As my gamer friends might say, OMFG! Three 2" binders, four 1" binders, 2 notebooks, 3 folders, black pens, red pens, markers, colored pencils, highlighters, white board markers (wtf?? the kids have to supply these??), erasers, two rulers, a scientific calculator, book covers, post-it notes, graph paper, lined paper...and I'm sure I'm leaving stuff off. Gerald bought the supplies last week, and I sat down last night to label and stuff binders (Science? That one needs highlighters and markers and a notebook with a 2" binder. Math? One of each size binder, a calculator, the graph paper, a ruler, pencils.) Even after the bags of stuff he'd bought, we turned out to be missing key items ("The colored pencils! Where are the colored pencils?!?"), so he headed out to Target at 9pm. I kept working on prepping items, calling him every ten minutes or so with another missing item. ("Oh, crap, there's no cartridge for the label printer!" "Hmmm, maybe we need some of those pencil/pen bags that snap right into the binders.")

Did I mention that this took three hours?

At any rate, when we were done we'd filled his backpack with the 1" binders, single subject notebooks, and loose items (pens, pencils, kleenex, etc), and filled a second canvas totebag with the 3" binders and his summer homework. (If I get permission from him, I'll post it here--it's fabulous.)

How all that will fit in his locker is beyond me. Gerald bought a locker shelf unit that Lane put into his locker this summer on "visitation day" at the school, and I'm hoping it's sturdy enough to hold up under all that crap.

My stepdaughter, who's now living with us (yay!) watched in disbelief as all this went on (and helpfully offered me a drink midway through :), asked "What do the poor kids do?" Good question. We didn't shop the sales this year (usually I'm obsessive about sale flyers and comparison shopping), so we spent close to $200 on supplies for the two kids. That's insane. But even with the best shopping habits, I don't see how you could fill all the requirements on that list for under $100. Ridiculous.

Okay, rant done. Hopefully they'll both have wonderful first days back in school. I teach 'til 6, so I won't be there when they get off their buses, but I'm looking forward to hearing about it over dinner.

werewolves @ rit?

At Foo Camp last month, I finally had an opportunity to play the game werewolf--something I've heard a lot about, but hadn't participated in. It's not a technology-intensive activity, by any means. No computers, just a deck of cards. For details on the game (and its sibling game, Mafia), see the link above. For those of you too lazy to click through, here are the basics:

A group of people gather around a table. We had around 20 people starting each round, but you could have fewer. The game master (in our case it was danah boyd) hands out cards to each player--on the card is the role you'll play for that game. The roles in our games were villager, werewolf, healer, and seer. For some of our games we had four werewolves, for others there were three. There's always one seer and one healer. Nobody knows what anyone else's role is when the game begins. The game master tells everyone to "go to sleep," which means you close your eyes and make some kind of noise--humming, etc--so that you can't hear what's going on. The GM tells the werewolves to open to their eyes, and to acknowledge each other with eye contact; then the GM tells the werewolves to silently agree on someone in the village that they want to kill off. The werewolves then are told to close their eyes, and the healer is told to open his or her eyes, and to indicate silently to the GM who s/he would like to heal for that round. Then the healer closes his or her eyes, and the seer is allowed to wake up. The seer can point to one person in the circle and have the GM tell them if that person is or isn't a werewolf. After that, the GM announces it's morning, and that everyone can wake up. If the person the werewolves picked to kill was not healed by the healer, the GM tells the deceased of their fate, and they have to leave the circle. Then comes the fun part. The remaining players try to determine as a group which players are werewolves. The players can vote to lynch someone if they believe they're a werewolf, or can choose to do nothing. Then the cycle repeats. The game ends at the point where either all the werewolves are dead (villagers win!) or there are more werewolves than villagers (werewolves win!).

One variant of the game allows deceased players to inform the group of their role, so that the village knows if a werewolf (or healer, or seer) has been killed. We didn't play with that rule, so we never knew for sure who'd just been killed off.

So, what's the point? You learn a lot about people from the subtle clues they give off. This is all about deception and perception, about how to read the "tells" from the people around you. The better you know people, I've heard, the easier it is to tell if they're lying.

It is incredibly addictive. And it's fun not just to play, but also to watch the game. Once you've been killed off, you get to see what everyone's real roles are, and to see who's most effective in convincing the others of their innocence (whether or not they really are innocent).

Tom Coates, danah boyd, and Jane McGonigal all have excellent accounts of the gameplay at Foo, and observations on the game itself, on their blogs. (Jane also talks about the fabulous "reverse scavenger hunt" that she ran at Foo, which was a great exercise in creative thinking and improvisational acting!)

So, this got me to thinking...are there werewolf players at RIT? If not, there totally should be. I'm thinking of proposing a monthly RIT werewolf game...time and place to be determined. Who wants to play?


Turns out I didn't forget how to teach. Or how to enjoy it.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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