Sunday, October 31, 2004


I have to say right here at the first, I spent probably 3-4 hours playing Zork. It was a great stroll down memory lane. My brothers and I beat Zork, back in the day, before walkthroughs. We beat it by struggling with it for months and months, checking with our friends, and begging for help from dad… We used to program our own 'games' in some really old programming language.

10 print "You are standing on a hill."
20 If "s" then goto 30.
30 Print "You are now standing on a cow pie."

Playing Zork was an enjoyable way to spend a few lunch periods this week Now, on to the topic of the week…

Communication is an interesting topic, and you can’t discuss technology, in particular the internet, without eventually ending up discussing communication. Before the invention of the alphabet, if one person wanted to convey ideas to another, both parties needed to share the same space and the same time. Only then could ideas be communicated between two people.

With the invention of writing, suddenly people could share ideas without sharing the same space and time. Words could be recorded and sent to far distant places, read by people at a different place and a different time. But written conversation is different than face to face conversation. When was the last time you got a letter like this?

Jennifer, how are you doing?

If I’m speaking to Jennifer face to face, that is what I would say. Then I would wait for Jennifer to tell me how is she is doing. Then based on what her reply is, I would form another piece of communication, and this exchange would go back and forth until Jennifer claims she left the stove on, and excuses herself (wow, flashback to the days when I was single.)

Writing forces you to engage in a type of monologue. Over time you eventually interact with another person, but as you write letters you are engaged in asking questions, telling stories, describing events, data, or ideas, without any feedback from the intended receiver. There is no feedback until after you have completed the writing, the recipient has received it, and replied to it. Our writing is usually meant for a different place, and a different time.

Now consider the following: IRC, instant messaging, MUDs, and similar program, we are now communicating by writing, sharing the same time, but a different space. This is a fairly recent phenomenon. Written conversation no longer needs to be a written monologue with a significant amount of time between exchanges, rather immediate written feedback can be expected.

This is a subtle, but important change that leads to all sorts of interesting side affects.

When conversing face-to-face, not only do we get immediate oral feedback, but nonverbal feedback as well. If a communicative partner rolls their eyes, that is a signal that they may not agree with something just spoken. Even the tone we take becomes a non-verbal signal to our intended message. Consider the following sentence.

I didn’t sleep with your sister.

Now read the sentence 6 times, placing an emphasis on each of the words in order. The exact same 6 words, in the exact same order give 6 completely different meanings. For example, “I didn’t sleep with you sister” implies that somebody else did. Or, “I didn’t sleep with your sister” implies possible amorous relations with some other member of the family.

There have been many methods developed to overcome this loss of non-verbal communication such as emoticons and abbreviations. It is interesting to note that we have social norms that exist because of our method of communication, and we attempt to replicate those norms when the medium changes. If I want to communicate something that may be a bit harsh, I can soften the message by making a joke of it, winking, or saying it tenderly with a soft hand on the shoulder. Online there is nothing but words. No tonal variance, no comforting squeeze of the hand, and on the positive side, no slap on the face when offence is taken. There is nothing but words.

MOOs allow for yet another interesting aspect. Suddenly a person is no longer just chatting; they are now interacting within an environment. Instead of typing, “You drive me crazy, I am very angry.” One can say, “You drive me crazy”, and then proceed to throw a chair through the wall. A person now has objects and an environment with which to interact.

I should mention that ‘back in the day’, I spent much more than 4 hours in a MUD environment. I guided a fledgling character upwards of level 9 (or something) by killing bugs, rabbits, and wildebeests in some MUD probably long gone. While spending time this week in a MOO, I was surprised how little activity was going on. Players were hanging out in the living room talking about, what else, politics. I was anxious to join in the conversation, but being a newbie, I did not attempt to jump right in to the foray. I did politely ask where a new visitor might want to visit and was told to go “north, south, east, west, up and down.” This spot, I was told, was apparently a great place to visit. I’m not the quickest guy in the cubicle, but I was able to figure out where this would lead me before I actually embarked on the journey. When I mentioned this I was told to feel free to sit on the couch, which I did. None of the active participants was overly anxious to spend time on a person who may never visit the site again, which is a very interesting topic for another day.

I explored a few other places in the LambdaMOO environment, and interacted with some of the objects, but did not have as much time as I wanted. Because of a firewall issue at Weber State, and having no internet connection at home, the only opportunity to log on was while on vacation at my brother’s house in Las Vegas. And after exploring for a bit my wife said something to the affect of “drove 400 miles to play on the computer”. I didn’t catch it all, but the non-verbals and tone was enough to get me off the computer, post haste. :)

Monday, October 25, 2004

Trust me...

What was it that Yoda said? "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering" This week Dave asked us to discuss the relationships between cooperation, incentives, reputations, and trust. I think it would be fair to say that reputations lead to trust, trust leads to cooperation, and you must have incentives to make it all work.

I used to teach a class at Weber State University called The Wired Society. One of the topics was human nature and technology. I posed the question, if technology helps us to do what humans do 'better', then it might be important to determine if humans are inherently good or inherently evil. If technology is a magnification of human nature and by nature we are 'bad', then isn't technology a bad thing as well?

I ran a series of 'experiments' where the students had to make choices in an online environment. The results of these challenges were supposed to give us an insight into human nature. A key theme to this experiment was the question of anonymity (which could be argued is the antithesis to reputation), and trust. The results were interesting. One of them was the prisoner's dilemma. I found that when we did the exercise in class, people played quite nicely. Online was a completely different story. Here and here are a few of the the links that demonstrate what happened. The long and the short of it was that when the class got online, in a state of anonymity, with no worry about reputation or future retaliation, things got messy. Quite messy.

Compare this to real life where what I do is noted by those around me, and I build a 'reputation'. "Oh yeah, that's Marion. Isn't he the one that painted the local Wal-Mart a nice shade of salmon while wearing a Tick costume?" What I do becomes my 'reputation'. Online we have the option to be anonymous, but if we frequent the same spots, with the same people, we again begin to build a reputation. I argue reputation is a good thing. It keeps us from acting 'human'.

Because my class acted in a anonymous environment, for a short period of time, in a temporary environment, there was no reputations built. The end result was that there was no trust. Because there was no trust, there was ultimately no cooperation. Another of the challenges I gave my class was an exercise in cooperation. If the whole class cooperated, they all came out ahead. If, however, one person decided to go against the group, everybody lost a few points, but the person who defected got a lot of points. It was a non-zero-sum game. Since nobody was concerned about reputation can you guess the results? More than half the class defected, even though during the discussion portion of the challenge almost everybody promised to cooperate.

A good case study is e-bay, talked about in two of our readings. It's a great system, partly because it is so incredibly simple (lower cost for those following the rational choice theory threads), but the end result is that the system gives us a reputation, easily and readily accessible by all, thus forcing trust (or distrust, as the case may be). With a quick click, I can know how other people have acted in past transactions. If somebody tends to be dishonest, then I can avoid working with them. If the trust is built, then I may now enter into a cooperative act with them. I will give them money in exchange for an item.

That trust also plays back into what Kollock called a social dilemma. E-bay's system allows us to engage in a 'tit-for-tat' system of feedback. Tit-for-tat means that if somebody harms you, then you harm them back. If the other player cooperates, then you in turn cooperate. If somebody sends you a solar powered clothes dryer, and you are not happy with it, then you can retaliate. This won't keep them from trying to sell to others, but it may warn others that this person is dishonest, and ultimately they may lose business. Going back to the rational choice theory, it becomes to costly to act in a dishonest manner. It is to a sellers advantage to be fair because there is a cost (negative incentive) to cheating.

I haven't left out incentives on purpose, rather I feel that I've already shared my thoughts on how they play a very important and holistic role in online communities and human nature in general, and I certainly wouldn't want to bore anybody with further ramblings. :)

I just want to say in hindsight that I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this topic. I think there is a lot there, and my thoughts are quite convoluted and nomadic in nature. I only had a week to work, read, and think on this. I feel like there is more that I haven't considered or discussed.

Ok, on to Zork! I beat Zork 'back in the day' (by day I mean before you could hop on the internet and get a walkthrough), but who can pass up the opportunity to play video games when you've got such a great excuse? "Honey, look right here, it says I have to play this game for hours and hours this week. Yeah, my professor is a slave driver, but you gotta do what the good doctor says."

Friday, October 15, 2004

You know you want to be one...

If you know the true definition of a hacker, and know what they do, then you may be like me and have always had a secret desire to be one.

This site at least gives you a place to practice.

Glad to know it's not just Herman again...

A few years after I found, and had frequented, a discussion board, I posted something to the affect of, "How do we know that this discussion board isn't just you, me, and some guy named Herman pretending he is 89 other people?"

It caused quite a stir, but the group got over it. That being said, it was nice to meet our Logan counterparts at Rooster's and to see the faces behind the blogs. I had a very enjoyable evening, and look forward to a possible next meeting up in Logan.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Fan Fic...

My family went for a drive last night. My little four year old is just learning about the letters of the alphabet; what they are, what they do, and how they sound.

“Just,” he said. “ju, ju… just. G… S… T. That spells just.”

I heard him from the front seat and replied. “Son, you are wrong. Gst does not spell just. You are not as smart as your brother.”

Earlier that day my toddler pointed to a banana and said, “Nanna.” It was the first word I had heard him say. I pointed my finger at him. “NO!” I said strictly, “That is not a nana. That is a banana. You need to learn to say it right, like your older brothers.

OK, I’m lying. That is certainly not how I act around my kids. When my son attempted to spell just, I praised him for knowing the sounds. He is thinking about forming words with letters, a significant leap. I encouraged him and he was very pleased at my attention. When my toddler tries to tackle new words, I cheer him on and give him a hug. Even when they are flat wrong I praise and encourage.

So why is it when children start to write, we have to grade them? We have to correct their spelling, grammar, and prose? Shouldn't a significant amount of time be spent doing nothing more than cheering them on?

After reading fan fiction this week, I’m beginning to understand the appeal. I was quite frankly shocked as I read the comments. I have been blasted many, many times on the internet. I share my opinion and I’m flamed. I ask a question and I’m flamed. I post a smiley and I’m flamed. In places I'm know I've been flamed on what I'm 'probably going to say'! But with fan fiction it’s different. Oh sure, there are the occasional flames, but for the most part people go out of their way to praise and encourage. That, in an and of itself, makes fan fiction a powerful learning tool. Why do kids (and adults) go and post stuff here? Could it be because they don’t get all of their errors shoved in their face?

But there is more. If I had to teach writing I would do three exercises. First I would have students read good literature. Second I would have them read bad literature. Third, I would ask them explain to me the difference. I would ask them to show me how to make the bad literature better.

Critiquing is a very difficult thing. It seems easy. You read a bad story and say to yourself, “That sucks tacos.” But that isn’t critiquing, that is merely criticizing. To critique you need to explain why something sucks tacos. That is much, much more difficult.

When I first started writing for fun, I wanted the opinion of others. I went to writing groups and asked for opinions. In exchange I was more than happy to give my opinion on their work.

But I found this to be very difficult. I would read a story, find it to be ‘bad’, but not quite knowing why. Their sentences were grammatically correct. It seemed like they had a great plot going. Why didn’t it grip me like Orson Scott Card’s books? Or Douglas Adams? What was the difference?

I certainly don't have all the answers as to what makes a good story, but I feel like I’m starting to have a better idea. Now, after much work, I can read a story and find specific problems; common errors that writers make. Maybe the plot is too heavy handed, predictable, or without conflict. Maybe the writer uses a particular word too many times in a paragraph. Errors I make all of the time, but now recognize because I’m looking at other’s work, and asking the difficult questions; what is wrong with this? how can it be better?

The long and the short of it is that people are finding a voice online. Because of the sheer number of individuals, participants can find a group of peers that have about the same writing level, and the same interests. They can think about each others’ work, make it better, and learn. This could be (is?) a powerful method of teaching literacy.

The stories I critiqued are here, here, and here. The story I wrote is here.

I found this assignment, and the reading that went along with it, to be both insightful and enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Self-Interest and Game Theory

Those interested in game-theory and the like will find this article interesting...

For twenty years, the strategy of Tit for Tat has won the competition. This was the basic strategy employed during the cold war. If you neighbor was nice to you, you were nice to them. If they 'wronged' you, then you answered back with an equal amount of aggression.

It now appears that Tit for Tat no longer works, as long as you have enough 'suckers' in the mix. The new program seeks to recognize 'friendies' playing the game (based on how they act in the first few rounds), then one program goes into master mode, and the other goes into slave mode. The 'slaves' end up at the bottom of the heap, because they are always sacrificing themselves for the 'masters'. The masters end up on top.

Monday, October 11, 2004


A friend just gave me a page from her Dilbert calendar. I found it quite funny.

Dilbert and Dogbert are talking at the breakfast table.

Dilbert: Maybe I should become a teacher so I can educate the leaders of tomorrow.

Dogbert: Maybe you should educate the morons of tomorrow so they'll stop believeing the leaders of tomorrow.

Rational Choice Theory

With a little help from a good friend, Jeannie Johnson I found a theory that relates to a previous discussion of online communities and self-interest. It's called the Rational Choice theory. The long and the short of the theory states that we all have desires, and that there are costs (monetary, social, psychological, etc.) associated with obtaining these desires.

My thoughts are that by raising the desire, or lower the cost, you can get people to act a certain way. Marketing departments do this all the time. They make commercials to convince us that we need an SUV, Ovaltiene, or a riding lawnmower. They try to raise our desires. Conversely, by lowering cost, you can also affect action. I do not like Ford vehicles, but if somebody offered me a new one for $4, then I would buy it. Well, I would consider it anyway... This works in economic models, but also works in describing human nature. I have the desire to be with my family and the desire to watch Napoleon Dynamite. If I watch Napoleon Dynamite, the cost is that I'm away from my family. I must weigh the costs against the desires before I come upon a rational decision.

So, taking that back to online communities. I would argue that the advent of these online communities are not because somebody has convinced us that we need to belong to a community (remember, the internet is not a corporate phenomenon, no single entity 'built it'). The desire of individuals haven't raised, rather the technology has lowered the 'cost'. It used to be that the cost of obtaining news was to wait until 6:00, or buy a newspaper, or listen to the radio at the top of the hour. Now the cost is to type into a browser. The cost of finding people who have similar interests, and actually conversing with them, has also lowered dramatically. I argue THAT is why online communities have organized.

I think I could demonstrate this phenomenon with the online group geocachers. The level to which this group has organized, the extent they now reach (globally), at the price they charge (Free), is amazing. The desire has always been there, and the ability to do so has been as well, but the cost was too high. Now the cost of accomplishing such a feat has decreased to a level so low that people are willing to just make it happen.

I don't know, what do you think?

For what it's worth...

Edublog log

I found this assignment particularly challenging. It has opened my eyes to several of instructional design, blogging, and earning a Ph. D. in general.

The first thing to strike me as I read these edublogs was the technical expertise of the bloggers. I work everyday with faculty members helping them with technology. I have a pretty good idea of how ‘technical’ the average college professor is. This is not a put down. Weber State has some brilliant professors. They know chemistry, literature, nursing, foreign languages, etc. etc. etc. What most of them don’t know are the finer nuances of technology. I spent my day with faculty who didn’t realize you can copy and paste, or undo a mistake. I’m worshiped as a techno god at least 3 times a week by fellow human beings with the title Doctor before their name.

So I felt completely overwhelmed by posts like this and this. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, instructional technologists and educators who are blogging are going to have a higher degree of technical expertise than your ordinary professors, but as I read through blogs this week I had a hard time feeling comfortable about jumping in and posting. I could see an exchange in the back of my mind.

Blogger: And so my RSS had a problem with the ASP, XML and SPGXML feeds. I wrote an application that isolated and repaired, but then flickr rendered python and you know what that did to plone and the So has anybody else solved this little conundrum?

Marion: Ummmm… Whenever my computer doesn’t work… Uuuuuh. I try restarting it. I don’t know, maybe you’ve already tried that, but I’ve noticed when my computer doesn’t work… I just… restart… Sometimes you have to pull out the cord… I mean the primary power supply… Ummmm…..

That being said, I’m excited to continue monitoring these sites. There are some exciting ideas being discussed. I doubt there is a group anywhere that is closer to the bleeding edge than many of the authors of the blogs I read this week.

The second, and perhaps more troubling revelation of the week, is the problem I realized while reading these posts. I saw several references to Flickr, a program that has something to do with graphics. I’m very curious about this program and would like to try and figure it out. However, I came to the conclusion I don’t have the time, nor did I have the time to do this assignment correctly. Personally I need more than five hours before I feel I can post something of merit to many of these blogs. This idea that I don’t have the time frightens me. I am beginning to realize that perhaps a Ph. D. is not something you do in your spare time. I currently work full time and am a dad in my spare time. That means whatever time is left has been devoted to reading, writing papers, and fulfilling class assignments. But the ‘deeper’ I get into this program, the more I realize that this is not how one earns a doctorate. I am realizing that a doctorate is something you immerse yourself in. Sure, you still have your life outside of the program, but earning a doctorate, if you are serious about it, is going to take up a significant amount of time. If work is taking 50 hours, and kids and dinner is taking another 20, is the remaining time enough time? The ‘five hours’ we were supposed to read and post was all I spent. I did not explore further, I did not download or play with Flickr (I’m not even sure it’s a downloadable). How can dive into this community of bloggers while wolfing down a plate of beans and in between faculty asking questions about their online course? I simply need more time.

Anyway, that is something I’m going to have to grapple with.

Back to the assignment. Using the RSS I read blogs for the required time, including reading back on fellow students’ blogs. I replied to these sites.

A message from a Wiki Spammer I couldn’t resist this one, the blogger used the phrase “crapping and leaving their fetid roach turds.” How can you ignore inspired prose like that?

I found several of Gulfidan’s posts interesting, and replied to them.

I wanted to post a reply to John Dehlin’s blog but did it on my site since I couldn’t seem to post a comment to his.

I also posted to The Flying Car. Jim had an interesting idea on the Zone of Proximal development and how that related to he Bazaar article we read in class.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Name change...

I decided to go with a better name while I'm blogging for this class. I can always either set up another one for my book, or change back when the topics becomes more my personal blog.

Anyway, for a bit of 'off topic' news, I found out this week that the publisher indeed is going to publish my book. I should have a contract in about a few weeks that will make it official. It looks like it's scheduled for a Spring/Summer 05 release.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Somewhat relevant for two reasons...

This article talks about blogs, and also involves a USU prof. Interesting indeed. Is this the beginning of a dark side to blogging?

Monday, October 04, 2004

More Thoughts on Blogs

I just read John Dehlin's assignment for the week and wanted to post a comment, but alas, was unable to. So I'll just post my thoughts here. John poses the following thought,

"To me, the miracle of the blogging movement lies within the notion of "aggregate and share"--the fact that really smart and motivated people are willing to spend time accumulating all of the most interesting and relevant articles/writings for a given topic/issue, and then are generous enough to share these findings with the rest of the world"

I think he has hit upon a key aspect of the usefulness of blogs, which leads to the question: why are people so willing to share? In our capitalist society, why are these people trying to do so much for so little? Do we need to start referring to anybody who blogs as "comrade blogger"? ;)

I think the answer goes back to the notion that we are dealing with such an amazing amount of people, each of them with their own value structure (going back to my thoughts on cost/benefits). Let's assume there are 50 people who have useful information; information that others would like to have. 49 of them try to think of a way to get money for that information. But the other one decides that the costs involved with trying to make money from the information (publishing, developing, marketing, managing, etc. etc. etc.), isn't worth the potential benifit. He/she decides that the cost of giving the information away for free (posting it to a blog), is outweighed by the payoff (the potential that thousands will use and benefit from the information, and that the poster may receive some attention).

My cousin keeps a tech blog. He says for him it's just as easy to keep track of how he did something on a blog as it is in a notebook. If he forgets how he did something, he can search his blog to remind himself of the procedure. The fact that others can also search it is just another benefit. Sure, he could try to publish his knowledge and make some money, but for him the cost is too high. And by doing this, he is keeping anybody else from making money from such information. Why pay for information if it is available for free?

Anyway, just a few more thoughts on the cost/benefit model...

Assignment : Blogs


The common thread I found in many a blog I came across this week, is that of inactivity. It seems that the usual pattern is to start a blog, keep it religiously for a while, then stop. I went looking for blogs based on topic, and found many of them inactive, or not frequently posted to.

But some are posting, or have been posting regularly for years. I found the motive for blogs to be fairly scattered. The five blogs I am choosing to report have owners whose motives are as divers as they are.

Shrub Bloggers

I have an old friend who has been keeping a blog for over a year. I met him almost a decade ago, and came across his blog about a year ago. I drop in every once in a while, and thought that this assignment would be a good excuse to do so again. I found him still plowing his way though life, and documenting it all on the web.

His only post for this week happened to be about a Malaysian restaurant. He described two of them actually, one which was not that impressive, another that was. He went on and on about the menu, the items, how there was a misunderstanding with his friend about the level of excellence between the two restaurants, etc. etc. etc. I have never eaten at a Malaysian restaurant, and am not sure I have ever eaten any Malaysian food. But his passion about the subject makes me want to try it. This may be part of the appeal of blogs. When somebody is passionate about something, you can't help but wonder what you are missing. My friend is very good at explaining his passions in life, and it makes me want to expand my horizons. Here I am, over 30 and I don't know the wonders of Malaysian cuisine. Gotta try it.

My friend also has a ring of friends. He links to them, they link to him. I would be willing to bet they also read and comment on each other's blogs. A ring of friends who have found a way to communicate online, and are willing to let the world be an audience.


I have read slashdot on and off for a while. I guess maybe not really read it, just kept hearing about it. I would drop by and think, "What is this?

This week I read it faithfully on my RSS, sometimes 4-5 times a day. I found it interesting and informative until I started reading the replies to the posts themselves. Then I found it interesting, informative, and sometimes downright hilarious. The wit of connected people, I believe, is the sharpest in the world.

What I found most interesting is that so many of the topics are interesting to me. You can't really lump them into one topic, such as technology, or current events. But it seems the themes are what I'm interested in. Their was a piece on Independent Video games. I downloaded a few of them to try out. There were many stories on the X-Prize, something I've followed for almost 2 years. Open source was another dominant theme, several book reviews I found interesting, and of course a few star-wars stories thrown in for good measure. Of all the blogs I followed this week, Slashdot will certainly stay on my RSS.

Jeff Boulter’s Weblog

I followed this blog just beacuse he seemed to be writing about GPS, something I've found interesting lately. His blog was not updated very frequently, however, and I suspect he is a good example of a normal blog out there. He write once or twice a week, it is more the journal style rather than commenting on his web travels. I read into the archives a bit, but there was nothing amazing. I include his blog only because I think this is a good representation of a many blogs out there.

John Kerry’s Blog

George Bush’s Blog

My major was in Political Science, and I have been enjoying the election coverage. I thought it would be interesting to follow the blogs of the two major candidates. I was wrong. They were boring, bias, hateful, full of spin, and said nothing at all interesting; the blogs were the same way. ;) I dare say I could go to almost any discussion board and find more interesting, witty, and insightful comments about the current political climate..

Which brings up an interesting point. We have a medium out there that is breaking into the mainstream. It's popular because it's a different voice. Blogs were influential in bringing to light the recent CBS forged documents scandal. Blogs are not news that corporations want to give us, it's news that people themselves find interesting. When somebody posts to slashdot, it's news that affects them. When posts something, I may or may find it relevant to me. Corporations are run for profit, and must report the news accordingly. Blogs are done for different reasons.

So Kerry and Bush have jumped on the medium, but I don't find their blogs nearly as interesting. It is news that some committee somewhere wants to get out. It's coordinated spin. That is not what makes blogs interesting. I found more passion in the one post about the Malaysian restaurant than I did in the entire weeks of the candidate's blog.

Then again, I may just be burned out on the rhetoric.

Either way, I enjoyed the assignment.