Friday, December 23, 2005

A good idea...

So, I just had a great idea, and since I believe in openness, I'm sharing it with the world.

One of the nice things about a DVD is that you get directors and actors commentary while you watch the movie. You can turn it on or off. This is a popular feature, in fact if you go to stores right now you can buy the King Kong DVD. No, not the movie, rather the production notes. People are interested in this kind of thing.

So, here is my idea. Peter Jackson makes his movie, then sits down and does his audio commentary as a podcast. Consumer Jimmy watches the movie, then goes back to watch the movie a second time, with his mp3 player so that he can watch the movie on the big screen with Peter Jackson. You could have the director, the producer, the actors. Heck, I'd like to watch some movies and get the dirt from the best boy or the key grip.

Who knows, it might increase movie attendance.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Head Author

Ok, I just posted my grades, I've turned in all my assignments, and I'm staring at a blank desktop with nothing to do. Maybe it's time to get back to this idea...

I've just done a literature review on how teaching composition has changed over the last several decades, and I've found some interesting stuff. It has reaffirmed in my mind that the idea of using a wiki to teach composition could be effective. But for now, I wanted to talk a bit about the role of the 'head author'. The head author is the one who initially starts the story, and ultimately decides what changes stay and what changes go.

One might argue, and rightly so, that if a group collaboratively writes a story, it doesn't necessarily mean that the 'head author' can actually write. It might be that he has really sharp classmates. For example, I write a story that has a weak voice, weak characters, and a weak plot. But since I have brilliant classmates, by the time they are done helping me with the re-write, it is a solid piece or literature. Can it be said that I'm a good writer? Can it be said that I'm learning how to write better?

I would argue yes.

The head author is not some passenger on a train that happens to get to where it is supposed to go. Rather a better example is a captain of a sailboat, who has to make the decisions, give the orders, and is ultimately responsible for the welfare of the crew. If I have 25 classmates helping me write a story, I would suspect that quite quickly it would become a mess of voices, plots and sub-plots, and directions. If the head author does not make critical decisions, the story will be a poor one indeed. A head author must be actively engaged in the creation of the story.

I think one of the benefits to writing in this medium would be that an author is subjected to expert modeling. They would observe, or have access to, writers with different, and possibly more polished skills than their own. For example. Let's say I start a story like this.

“This is a story about a guy who has never kissed before, but tonight, he gets his first kiss.”

Not exactly “Call me Ishmael”. This is a thesis statement, not a good first line to a story. But it's quite possible that a student with very little writing skill would think this is a great introduction, because it introduces the story to the reader.

So, in a wiki, the instructor, or even another student with better writing abilities, might insert a comment like this, “The first line really should capture the imagination of the reader, and the current line kind of reads like a textbook. Maybe the first line should read more like this...” And then the classmate or instructor might change the line to...

“This is a story of a young man. A young man, who has never been kissed.”

The 'head author', would then be able to look at both first lines, and would have to make the decision whether or not to keep the first line, keep the second line, or maybe modify the second line to reflect what she is aiming for. Maybe the student decides that she is going for a lighter 'fairly tale' voice, and changes the first line to:

“Once there was a boy who had never been kissed.”

But the crucial element is that the author started with a 'kernal' of a story, then saw a different approach, and had to decide for herself which one was better, and why. This is the same process that happens when students share their stories in paper form, and other students critique them. The main difference is that the critiquing students have more opportunity to directly rewrite the story. But if the head author is not doing his or her job of shaping and guiding the story, the end result will likely be a poorly written piece of work.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I fought the law...

And the law ate my lunch...

A few months ago I got a letter from the great state of Utah telling me that I was being audited. When it came down to it, there had been a small error on my part. I had claimed something in the wrong year (I guess I hadn't read the 8 volumes of the tax code close enough). Well, they told me I owed $300 and Originally (back in October), I asked if we couldn't just switch my claim from 2002 to 2001. They laughed and told me no. I asked to appeal it, and I got a hearing before a judge. It was quite exciting. I was getting my day in court.

What I was aiming for was to just have a one-on-one with somebody who could do something. Somebody to show a bit of mercy to an idiot who misread the tax law. Because I should have gotten the deduction, I just claimed it a year late.

Well, I got my hearing, in front of the judge, and he was quite nice. I explained the error, and he sympathized with me, and told me how that mistake could easily happen.

And then he told me there was nothing he could do about it. The law is the law. The statute of limitations has expired, so even though I shouldn't owe the money, I in fact, according to the law, owe the money.

Technically I could have pushed forward with the appeal. It would have taken up the judges time, the lawyer's time, the tax commission's time (I don't feel bad about taking up their time, maybe it would keep them busy enough that they don't go snooping through YOUR taxes), and the could have written up a note to take before some board at the tax commission, but the chances of me not having to pay are basically nil.

I'm tempted, since I work for a state funded institution, to smuggle $300 worth of office supplies and take the law into my own hands. But I don't know if my super villain name "staple stealing vigilante" or the entire event, "The Great Stapler Stealing Caper" would bring me fame, glory, or a movie deal.

So I'll write out the check, vote libertarian in the next election, and try not to feel bitter about the whole deal.

Anybody need a pack of post-it notes?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Spoon River

I've had the distinct pleasure to be involved in a class this semester that talked about instructional games. It was quite enjoyable, especially the class project we did. It can be found here.

The basic premise is that we took a text that is often taught in High School, and turned it into an interactive text adventure. It was fun to work on, but even more fun was to attend our 'release party' (no representatives from EA Games showed up (their loss)), and see the reaction of the people playing it. They were having fun! To me it was an enjoyable project, but to see somebody really have fun while playing something you created was surprising pleasant. In fact, I just re-checked out Spoon River Analogy. I want to go back and build a few more clusters, because I know I could come up with some better ones. And now I've got the 'computer hacking skills' to do it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

And a follow up to the wiki news

As a follow up to my last post, a couple of folks decided to dig a little deeper on the recent research that showed wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica have about the same error rate. As it turns out, most of the articles that were examined were much longer on wikipedia. So if you look at errors per bytes of text, the wikipedia is actually more accurate. From the article:

"Result: WP errors per 2KB: 1.3. Britannica: 3.6. WP average article size: 6.8KB. Britannica: 2.6KB"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Wiki in the news...

With all the news about wikipedia lately, you would think that the onlin, free, collaborative encyclopedia was nothing more than a cess pool of inaccurate, messy, worthless information (that creed is actually what uncyclopedia is shooting for, and doing a very good job of it, if I may say so myself).

But this article suggests that the difference between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britanica is not that far. Errors are found in both encyclopedias, although wiki did have a slightly higher rate.

Interesting read.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


So, my book is finally on Amazon. For whatever reason, my publisher doesn't list their books on So it is up to other book stores to sell 'through' Amazon. I was checking all through the summer but it just wasn't getting on there. But now it is. Of course the asking price on Amazon $35. I'd like to say that is because my book is so popular, and it's a first printing, and I'm selling thousands of copies, but it's not. I'm actually not sure why it's so high. If I had the gumption, I'd sell copies myself, but currently I'm trying to get the copyright back so that I can release the book under a Creative Commons license.

We'll see what happens.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Too Many Lawuers

Sometimes all you can say is "Oh Brother".

The FUDDERS are probably giggling with glee.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

31 Years

Maybe I don't need a retirement fund? I'll be 64 in 31 years.
I get deep into school, and just can't get around to posting to my blog.

I've had a class on problem-based learning this semester, and while there is a bit (only a bit) of research on problem based learning and writing, there are some methods with very close parallels; process-based writing seems to be the closest.

But now I'm looking at model centered instruction as maybe a theory that gives a little bit more room. It has similar characteristics to PBL, but it has a bit more flexibility.

I'm also excited, as I've been doing research into the teaching of writing, that a wiki could really be a powerful tool in teaching, and producing, good writing. Many of the theories and methods of teaching writing rely on constructivist approaches and communication between the reader and the writer. I think the wiki could facilitate this process.

Anyway, more to come after final papers and projects are in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Valley of Fire, Nevada

Valley of Fire, Nevada
Originally uploaded by firemeboy.
This is a picture I took in Nevada.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Physics is Free...

We need more professors to use this text. Of course there are drawbacks to an online textbook. You can't use it as a door stop, you can't use it as a booster seat. If a rabid dog comes charging at you, you can't bop it over the head with it.

But then again, the online version is free, it's over 1500 pages but can fit in your pocket (assuming you have a flash drive), and the author can update it at a moment's notice.

Wasting Time

It's the Thanksgiving break, you should have some mindless activity to do.

It's also a nice example of how order can spring from chaos with just a few simple rules. Over time the tiles begin to generally face the same direction.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dig vs. Dot

I'm a long time reader of Slashdot, but recently I've also been watching I get good news in both places, even though the style of posting news is different (Slash uses an editorial board to determine what gets posted while Digg uses a voting system based on what their users find interesting).

Now there is a site that is tracking which site beats the other to the punch. It's kind of fun to watch, and apparently overall, Digg comes out ahead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Podcast For Dollars

Looks like folks are trying to figure out a way to make money off podcasting.

That's just great.

My favorite quote from the article.

"I'm not anti-money or anti-commercials, but people who listen and do podcasts walked away from commercial radio for a reason," Bates said. "For me personally, I got tired of constantly being marketed to and hearing a generic fake radio personality. When the traffic guy has something to pawn off to the listeners, there's a problem with that model. So why are people so eager to return to that failed model?"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

10 Week Blahs

I'm a victim of my environment. I did my entire undergraduate program under the Quarter system. Each quarter was 10 weeks long. I can handle anything for 10 weeks. I could even handle statistics for 10 weeks (ok, that's a lie, but almost anything else).

But under the semester system, we go 15 weeks. So at about 10 weeks I start to struggle. It's not that I don't like my classes. I love them (if you are one of my professors reading this, you know that I particularly like your class), but I think my academic schedule is still on a 10 week pattern. I have had the uncontrollable urge to play video games, watch sill TV, and let the brain cool off, if only for a few weeks.

But alas, that is not the case. I've got a lit review to write, some code to write (although I must admit, I really like writing the code), and readings. Always the readings...

Anyway, 5 more weeks. I've been saying that a lot, lately.

5 more weeks.

Should I Really Be in a Ph. D. program?

So I was walking across campus today after a few errands, and I thought I'd turn back on Marche Slave, by Tchaikovsky.

I hit play and nothing happens. There is no sound. I check the track and it's counting down, so I know it's playing. There is the little triangle up in the left hand corner, and not the two pause bars. I check the volume, and it's turned up. I crank it more, just in case we're at a slow place in the song.


It was then I realized I was holding the ipod in my left hand, and the headphones in my right.

I guess as long as I don't have to work an iPod in any of my comprehensive exams, I'll be ok.

Friday, November 04, 2005

When a computer just isn't smart enough...

Looks like Amazon is now paying people to do simple tasks that computers can't do very well. You can check out the site here.

Part of me thinks this is really cool. The internet lets a company connect with people in a way that was never before possible.

Then part of me (the sci-fi part), thinks that if we start doing these kind of tasks, and leave the more difficult (challenging/fun/interesting) problems to a computer, then aren't we basically just their lackeys?

Then again, maybe I've been watching too much Battlestar Galatica.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sweet Vindication

I wrote a post several months ago about John C. Dvorak's article blasting the Creative Commons license. I didn't know much of Dvorak, but the article made me not like him.

Then I started listening to the Twit podcast, and I couldn't help but start to like the guy. He's cynical, goofy, and fun to listen to. In fact, he's the reason I listen to Twit. But it still bugged me that he had so thrashed Creative Commons. It wasn't just that he had bashed it, but that he just didn't get it. How could I like somebody who doesn't get it?

Well, now he get's it. Episode 27 of the Twit podcast features Larry Lessig, and a great discussion on Creative Commons and the future of copyright. Dvorak has seen the light, and now all is well. I can like Dvorak and his antics with reckless abandon.

If you want to listen to just the creative commons bit, move forward about 8 minutes into the show.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Happy Halloween

Halloween is one of those holidays that holds it's own, at least for a while. When you're a kid, you love the holiday because it's all about the candy. Free candy. Lots and lots of free bag of candy. It's enough to quicken the heart of even the most stoic 7 year old.

Then you go through a brief time when you're too cool to trick or treat, but quickly you find out that Halloween can still be fun. You get into High School and College and realize it's still fun to dress up, go to parties, be a little crazy.

For me, Halloween is now hit or miss. Sometimes it's still fun, but often it's just another night. I spent this Halloween sitting on the couch doing homework, worrying about OCW, trying to concentrate with the doorbell ringing every 4 minutes, handing out cheap candy and wishing I could be one of those 'cool houses' that gives out full sized candy bars, then fighting with four boys trying to get them to calm down with 48 pieces of candy pumping sugar through their little veins.

I guess if it were a different holiday I would be saying “Bah, Humbug”, but I don't think it fits for this one.

Maybe next year...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The problems with collaboration.

The success of wikipedia has shown us that coherent pieces of text can be written by several users over time. Sure, there are the few cases of vandalism, but 750,000+ articles is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the power of collaborative writing.

"But hold on there," I can hear you say, "writing a factual article on tree sap is completely different than writing an creative piece of fiction."

Very true. And this is the 'problem'. How can you write a coherent story when you have multiple people pulling the story in multiple ways? Before we address that issue, lets look at the art of writing fiction.

Over the years I've read several books on how to write. A familiar theme in these books was the fact that while one person does the actual writing, a story is still shaped and molded by more than just the author. For example, both Steven King and Orson Scott Card have said the first thing they do after writing a chapter is show it to one or more trusted sources. They want feedback. They ask questions such as; what works? What doesn't work? What have I missed? They then go back and rewrite the story based on that feedback. Sometimes the book goes in an entirely different vein based on this kind of feedback.

Then there are the editors who look for punctuation and grammatical errors, technical errors (first you say it's Tuesday, and now suddenly it's Friday), etc. etc. etc. Although the core of the story belongs to the author, and they ultimately have the final say in what appears in the book, I don't think there are many authors who say, "I wrote this book by myself, in a vacuum, and nobody helped me." Just look in the acknowledgments page to see who helped mold and shape the book.

So, the problem of wiki fiction is that you will never get a coherent story when multiple authors are trying to drive the story a different way. But that problem is solved when we realize that normal fiction is also being pulled by different sources. The difference is that there is one author who ultimately gets to say what happens to the story. I don't know what you would call this role; the original author, head author, whatever... But their role is to write the initial 'kernal' of a story (it may be just an idea, or it may be a well crated piece of work), and then guide that story through the many edits that will come by multiple authors.

It is interesting to note that writing in a wiki environment simply gives more 'access' to those sources who help shape the story. It empowers them in a way that hasn't happened before. What will be the result?

I don't know.

I want to talk more about the role of this head author, but that will have to wait for another day. I also want to talk about how this role as a head author is crucial, not only to the creation of a good story, but will also also be important from an instructional standpoint. Again, that will be a topic for another day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


I've been thinking about games and learning, and can't help but wonder if patterns aren't an important part of it all.

My last couple of posts were long and dry, but I attempted to look at how games might be related to problems, and specifically Jonassen's 9 problems types. The more I think about it, the more I think the more popular games fall in the middle of Jonassen's problems. They aren't the logarithmic or story problems, neither are they the design and dilemma problems. They are the rule-using problems, decision making problems, troubleshooting problems, and the diagnosis-solution problems.

And it seems to me that these kind of problems are replete with patterns. This relates to the whole idea of 'learning is fun'. Some kind of learning is fun, a lot of fun. And in my mind, I think the fun learning is all about quickly recognizing patterns, predicting patterns, manipulating those patterns in hopes of achieving an end, and finally, mastery of patterns to completely obliterate your opponent.

Anyway, these are just 'initial' thoughts. I was playing Civilization the other night (when I should have been doing homework or sleeping), and I just couldn't turn the game off. I had made some choices that I thought would pay off, and I kept hitting the 'end turn', anxious to see if my predictions would turn out. I was manipulation about 7 different patterns and wanted to see the outcome.

Anyway, I'll have to think about this some more. I probably need to play some more Civilization to completely immerse myself in the thought process.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Not a Followup

I found this article to be interesting. Dvorak is basically saying that the media is biased toward Macs because they all use Macs. And new things that come along with Windows are dismissed out of hand. While I've been told many times, by many people (including relatives, friends, co-workers, total strangers, aliens) that Mac's are better, I just can't make the switch. The German Language might be better, but I'm used to English. The Dvorak Keyboard (no relation to the columnist mentioned above) is supposed to be better, but you don't see people fleeing qwerty in droves.

I'm quicker on a PC. It would take me months to figure things out on a Mac. So I'm sticking with it, despite what the Macmedia says.

That being said, when I get my new laptop, I am putting Linux on it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Follow up to the follow up...

The more I think about my last post, the more I want to change my statement. I think games relate to Jonassen's problems, but that the more popular games relate to the problems in the center of the spectrum, and the games on the outlying edge would be considered more educational than games. For example, here is a great example of a 'design problem/game'. And there are a bunch of examples over here. But these aren't the types of games that sell millions of copies (half-life, Sims, etc.). Those kind of games mirror the problems in the center of the spectrum.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Follow up...

A few days ago I wrote a bit about PBL and writing. Shelton Brett followed up with a very good question. He asks, “What about Jonassen's problem types and the effort of designing instructional games? Is there any cross-over between alignment of game activity and instructional goals in PBL? If so, how does this work?”

That is a very good question. One in which I had to think about for quite some time (over the weekend, no less, when my brain is supposed to be shut down).

I thought I should probably define what I mean when I say PBL, and then look at how Jonassen breaks problems into types. Then throw out what I think might be some cross-over points with games.

Barrows, the granddaddy of problem-based learning, defined PBL as having four key parts (note, these are pulled from a journal called Distance Education, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2002):

* Problems are presented to learners in the way they would be presented in the real world (i.e. messy, ill-structured, etc.)
* Learners assume responsibility for their own learning (i.e. the instructor is no there to give them all the answers, the learners have to do their own work.)
* The teacher's role is that of a guide or facilitator of learning.
* The problems presented to students are the ones that the students are likely to confront in the real world during their career.

So, PBL in a nutshell can be described as real world problems that are given to the students, who then decide for themselves how to solve them. The teacher only guides the process. You can also read a good definition of PBL over on wikipedia.

So turning to Jonassen, he describes 11 types of problems:

* logical problems
* algorithmic problems
* story problems
* rule-using problems
* decision making problems
* troubleshooting problems
* diagnosis-solution problems
* case analysis problems
* design problems
* dilemmas

Problems don't fit into these types as nicely as we might like, and maybe it's more of a spectrum than a classification, but at least it's a nice measuring point with which to start.

So, how does all that relate to games? It is always difficult to talk about video games because the spectrum of video games is so broad. How does PBL relate to a game like Tetris? Grand Theft Auto? The Sims? Solitaire? One could argue that when those games are compared to each other, they have more differences than they do similarities.

That being said, I would argue that just about all of the games have one thing in problem, and that is they are centered around some 'problem'. The problem is the core of the game. In Space Invaders the problem is the aliens keep coming down, faster and faster. In Myst the problem is you don't know what is going on. In the Sims, you have problems like your sims must eat, get rest, and find love. Solving the problem is the point of the game. Because of this, games do a particularly good job at presenting problems in a way that engages the learner and is fun. After all, they are selling these 'problems'. The purpose of presenting the problem is they would like to make money.

So what kind of problems are they? I think you could argue that games present nearly every problem type that Jonassen describes. Some of the simple puzzle games present logical and story problems. Strategy games, particularly the real time strategy games, do a good job at teaching decision making, troubleshooting, diagnosis, and strategic performance problems. There are even games that have design and dilemma problems built into them.

Of course the crucial question comes when we return to Barrows. If we look closely, it can be argued that 3 of Barrow's criteria for PBL are met. The problems in video games are often 'messy'. If they weren't the games would be solved in a few minutes, or half an hour. A good game not only take days to 'solve', but often the problem is interesting enough that the person playing the game will try different ways to solve the problem.

The learner (or the video game player) is also the one calling the shots. When you pick up the controller, you are the one in charge of the game (Barrow's second criteria). And the game often does an excellent job of being a tutor, rather than a lecturer. My experience with games, and with observing others play games, is that the first thing you do with a game is not read the instruction manual, rather you just start playing. There are often in-game hints, tutors, or quick start guides that help get you started, in the right direction.

Where the games don't quite live up to Barrows, is the last criteria, that of presenting problems that learners are likely to confront in real life. Although I'm quite adept at saving the princess in Super Mario Brothers, in real life I've never had to stomp on any killer mushrooms, or turtles throwing hammers.

However, since I'm a bit partial to video games and their learning potential, I would state that while the video games do not present real world problems, there is the real possibility that transfer can and does happen. I attended a recent talk given by John Seeley Brown where he mentioned a young man who played a lot of online games. This young man started many guilds, and became quite good at managing these people at a great distance. In the case of this video game player, the skills he learned in this online game transferred quite well to the real world. Dr. Brown mentioned that the skills he honed in the game have landed him a very good job with a large company'.

So, to summarize for everybody who just skipped to the end (I don't blame you, I didn't mean to blather on this long), I think video games are intricately tied to problems, and therefore would fit nicely into Jonassen's problem types. I also think that video games (at least the better ones) meet most of the criteria that Barrows outlines as good PBL. And despite the fact that games don't present 'real world' problems, there is still a good chance that concepts learned in video games might be transferred to the 'real world'.

And there you have it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

PBL and Writing...

So, I mentioned in a previous post how problem-based learning (pbl) works, but I wanted to write just a bit about how I think this applies to creative writing.

Jonnason describes several types of problems. Writing falls into the 'design' type, and is one of the more complex kind of problems. A design problem is where you start with a blank piece of paper. To solve the problem you must design a 'thing'. Whether you are designing an engine, writing some code, or writing a short story, the design problem is complex in the sense that you start with nothing, and end with a finished project.

Think for a moment about writing a short story. When we ask our middle school students to write a story, we are really asking them to solve a lot of problems. They must solve the problem of structure, setting, character, conflict, time line. On a smaller scale they must solve the problem of paragraph and sentence structure, dialog, punctuation, wording, adjectives, verbs, etc. etc. etc. This can be a daunting task for a novice writer, which is why often when we ask students to write we don't ask them to take on the whole problem. We may ask them to write a few paragraphs that describes a setting or a character. Or give them a setup with a conflict, and then have them write the resolution. This helps break down the whole problem into more manageable bits.

As a side note, this is exactly what Fan does. With fan fiction, many of the problems are already solved. Setting, character, conflict, back story... These are already provided. Writers can focus on dialog and action; smaller problems.

So... If pbl looks to be a viable way to instruct, and writing is a design problem that may be best taught by breaking down the problems into manageable chunks, that leads us right into out next topic, collaboration and how wiki's play a part in all of this. And I think I'll save that for another day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Don't You Believe It...

A few of these have been popping up, and they are quite clever. You take clips from a movie, and change the 'theme'. So for example, the wonderful West Side Story becomes a zombie flick. Or The Shining becomes a tender heart warming story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Movie Night...

Want to watch a movie? Don't want to go to the theater, blockbuster, or even the shelf? Well, if you're reading this, you're only one click away from a nice Hitchcock flim. And no, that link isn't to Kazza or Morpheus.

The public domain is your friend.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still more dissertation thoughts...

I guess the foundation of my open fiction idea stems from problem-based learning. PBL has it's roots in the Canadian medical field. Back in the late 60s medical students weren't happy with the status quo, instructors weren't happy with the status quo, so a guy by the name of Howard Barrows decided to try a problem-based approach to instruction. The idea was that rather than have students sit in lecture halls to learn content, then go into the real world and basically solve problems all day, why not teach them the content by giving them the kinds of problems they would face in the future?

It is similar to an apprenticeship model, where a person comes and learns at the hands of an expert, not in a separate location, but right there in the thick of things. There is quite a bit to problem-based learning, and I won't go into all of it now, but suffice it to say that studies have shown that problem based learning is about as good as the traditional method of teaching (lecture based) when it comes to teaching content, and much better when it comes to teaching strategies and problem solving skills.

So, the idea is that we give students problems that will help them learn both content and strategies, and this will better prepare them for the 'real world'.

Does this relate to writing? I think it does, and it leads to some interesting lines of thought. I'll tackle that topic another day.

CNET offering online courses...

It looks like CNET is beginning to offer 'online courses', though they more technology related. Right now the only course is one on how to use your HDTV, but courses on digital photography, selling on e-bay, and several tool courses look to be in the works.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

We can do that...

Twice in the last week, while converting online courses to open courses, we've run into the snag of intellectual property issues. And both times the instructor has said, “Why don't we just produce some alternative material ourselves?”

In both cases, it looks like we just might be able to do this.

I hope this is a trend we see more of. There are all sorts of little pieces of copyrighted material out there that somebody is making a few dollars off of. They are not a feature length movies, they are not four volume set of books. There are little clips of audio here, and cheaply made videos there. But they are held out of the public domain because that is just how it's always been done. But if our school makes a few things, and other schools makes a few things, and this sharing happens over and over again, we will soon have a nice library of material that all can benefit from.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Girls Best Friend...

Looks like they are growing diamonds in the lab now. The article talks about all the good things that will come of if like cell phones the size of watches, iPod holding 10,000 movies, car paint that doesn't scratch. But of all the cool new things it does, my first hope is that the first thing these artificial labs do is bring down the De Beers cartel.

Google's RSS Reader

I plan on trying out Google's new reader here in the next few days. I'll post a review if I get a chance.

I actually saw a movie...

Went and saw a great movie the other night. You can watch the first nine minutes of the show here.

If I didn't have work, school, school, and work taking up all my time, I'd write up a proper review. But I don't have the time to do the movie justice. It was very good.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Interactive Fiction

One of the classes I'm taking this term is a course on gaming and education. As a class, we are creating an interactive fiction game (think Zork), based around the Spoon River Anthology. Spoon River Anthology is a series of epitaphs in a cemetary. The epitaphs make many different comments about many different things.

To me, the most enjoyable aspect of the class (outside of programming which is at once feverishly addictive, and excruciatingly frustrating) is the core design. The purpose of the game is not to come up with clever puzzles, but to teach the content of the book. We want the students to critically think about the poems of Masters. How do you do this? Well, it's not easy. It's quite hard, but when you hit the mark there is a thrill.

For example, one of the 'puzzles' that we came up with is centered around Carl Hamblin. His poem is a great message. He makes a political statement, one for which he suffered quite a bit. But how do we get the students to critically think about this 'message'? The answer we came up with, and I'm sure there are other ways, is to only give the student the first piece of the poem. They will find a headstone with the following:

THE PRESS of the Spoon River Clarion was wrecked,
And I was tarred and feathered,
For publishing this on the day the Anarchists were hanged in Chicago:

And then we will inform them that there looks to be four holes where a plaque once rested. Here is Carl Hamblin, who lost his livelihood and was physically harmed for printing... Something. The student won't know what. The puzzle will come in the form of finding the plaque, restoring it to it's headstone', and lighting a torch so that the message of the dead can continue to be read by all that visit. When put in that scenario, I feel that the students will value the message more. They will read it a bit more careful. They will understand the weight that the message carries after having to go to a lot of work to find it and 'fix' it.

Anyway, it is quite difficult to come up with puzzles that are not just fun, but that also meet the goal of making students reflect on a poem. Difficult, but quite satisfying.

Very Cool

Another great use for google maps. You can take a picture, then send the picture, along with the coordinates of where you took it, to this place. It keeps track of the picture and location.

I'm tempted to send a picture that is just the color white, and give them coordinates to somewhere in Antarctica.

I'll have to use the Humor Efficiency formula to determine if the laughter achieved would be worth the time involved, assuming the chance that the picture would not get through whatever filtering process they have in place.

I need a calculator.

This is the formula I used...

Ok, the topic is laughter, but this article takes a serious look at the topic. And it is actually quite interesting. I've posted before on humor, and have given it a lot of thought. A Russian scientist went one step farther (leave it to the Russians to show me up), and created an actual formula.

HE = PI x C/T + BM


HE = Humor Effectiveness
PI = Personal involvement
C = complexity of joke
T= Time spent telling joke
BM = Background Mood

Makes sense to me.

Google and MS

Google is going to make Open Office (it's free) accessible from their toolbar. I already use Open Office (it's free), and have had no problems with it. This could make the Open Office Suite (it's free) more popular with the masses because... well, it's free.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More dissertation thoughts.

I wanted to write just a bit about what has driven me to the point where I want to study collaborative creative writing in a wiki environment. When I first heard about the wikipedia I thought to myself, "There is no way that will ever work. If anybody can make changes to a web site, it's just going to become one big vandalized mess." I mean isn't there a huge industry dedicated to internet security? An industry that keeps people from doing exactly what the wikipedia was inviting you to do?

Well, while I was busy being so sure it would never work, it in fact was working. It was working just fine. I wandered over to the wikipedia site and saw hundreds of thousands of articles, all being written collaboratively. Sure, vandalism happened, but rarely. And when it did happen, it was fixed quickly. It is amazing to see a wikipedia article grow and evolve.

This opened a whole new world in my mind. Openness, commons, collaboration; suddenly it all started making sense.

Of course most folks have heard about Linux, and know the openness behind that, but there is so much more. We have Audacity for all of your audio needs, Gimp for your photo editing needs, Open Office for all of you document creation needs, and the list goes on and on...

I think that online collaboration provides an exciting opportunity in many different areas. In a future post I'll look specifically at why I think creative writing is one such area.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Last Minute Book Signings

I'm doing two book signings today (Saturday the 1rst). I'll be at the Layton Seagull from 12:15 to 1:45, and the Riverdale Seagull from 4:15-5:45.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It's all about the context...

I attended a workshop on reusability the other day. Reusability is a big thing. We have 10 thousand middle school science teachers spending time and resources to come up with a better way to teach Netwon's laws of motion. Why not create one really good way and let everybody reuse it?

But Robby Robson, the leader of the workshop, made an interesting observation. He said that, "context is the friend of learning and the enemy of reuse."

For example, if I say that John Smith is the Homer Simpson of learning theorists, in a few short words and in a few short seconds, anybody familiar with the Simpsons will know that John Smith is not a very good learning theorist. Context is a very powerful learning tool. If I can describe or teach something within a framework that is already understood by the learner, then they will learn the information quicker, they will be able to recall it for a longer period of time, and they will likely encode it at a deeper level. Context is a beautiful thing to a teacher or an instructional designer. But if something is deeply embedded in context, the usability is drastically reduced. For those unfamiliar with the TV show The Simpsons, the above comment would mean nothing. It will take me more time and more words to describe John Smith the learning theorist.

So the obvious question becomes, do you design your learning artifacts to be efficient or reusable?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Laughing Points

I couldn't help but post this. The Authors Guild, the folks suing Google, have written up talking points so that you can back them up if you happen to go to a dinner party this weekend (their words, not mine).

Listen to this little gem.

"Google is digitizing countless texts, your books, in their entirety -- every sentence, every carefully chosen word -- without your permission."

It sounds like you should tack on, "and taking lunch money from small children" onto that sentence.

Lessig weighs in on the matter with a nice article over on his blog.

If you can't sell books, sue Google.

The authors guild, and several other authors are suing google. I think it only proper. I mean, why flood the earth with books and information that could benefit the world? There is always a chance that your book that went out of print 50 years ago suddenly roars back into public demand. Then the dollars are going to come rolling in.

That last sentence was dripping with irony, just in case it wasn't apparent.

I personally wrote to the guild and expressed my thoughts on the matter.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Problem-Based Learning...

I'm becoming a fan of PBL, but after reading a study I've got a question.

The study found that students who went through a PBL course didn't score any better on final tests, but felt that PBL was a more nurturing and enjoyable experience.

So, if you're thinking about moving to PBL, do you do it? If it's not going to increase tests scores, is it worth the headache? Just so that students can feel warm and fuzzy?

I suspect this person might have one answer, and this person might have another (I love the look of the kid in the red shirt. He looks like he might need a Jolt soda or something. And then the other kid in the red shirt is attempting to use his heat vision or something on the first boy.)

If students are learning just as well, does it matter if they are happy?

A Good Thing...

Interesting article on Google's further attempt to organize the world's information.

Is your calendar marked?

Today is the day. I'm not sure why, or what it means to you personally, but the fact still remains, that today is the day... matie

Friday, September 16, 2005


So, I've been audited by the great state of Utah. Great here meaning, "freaking idiots".

I guess I owe Uncle Sam, wait, that's federal... I guess I owe cousin Earl about $500. I called the auditor today to try and figure out what happened.

Apparently we claimed that my wife stayed home with the kids... which she did. But we have to make less than $50,000... which we do. But one of the kids has to be less than 12 months old... which he was.

So where did we go wrong? Well, apparently the kid has to be born in the year that you claim it. But in 2001 I distinctly remember not claiming it because it said something about caring for the child at least 6 months. And since boy number three was born in November, I didn't claim him in 2001, but did in 2002.

"Well," I said, "That is easy. We'll just file for an additional refund for the year 2001. We just made the mistake of claiming in the wrong year."

The auditor laughed. I kid you not. He laughed right into the phone. Not a wholesome chuckle like your grandpa does. A laugh like the school bully does when you pee your pants on the playground because you're right in the middle of a good game of freeze tag, and you're not sure if it's legal to leave the playground when you're frozen, even though you really have to go.

"You can't go back and reclaim in 2001, you can only go back 3 years."

I know this guy is only doing his job, but had I been in the same room with this guy, I think I would have promised a game cube to the first one of my children who bit the man in the shins. I would have thrown in a few extra games if there was blood letting.

Ok, probably not. I'm not a violent man. But I'm quite irked at the whole matter.

But I've already started the red tape. By golly if they are going to suck me for a further $500 dollars, they are going to pay for it. I'm going to balk and waver and hamper and stall and dilly dally and quibble and put off and hinder and waffle until I feel I've gotten some entertainment out of the whole matter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

This is a free speech zone...

But spam is a lunch meat.

Somebody asked me about the two comments I deleted. I never thought that the perception might be that I delete comments from my blog because maybe I don't like what was said. I have been on discussion boards with a 'censor' and don't like the experience as much as I do those that are a bit more... 'open'.

The two posts I deleted were spam. One said something like, "I love your writing style. If you ever want to host an online casino..." The other said something similar. Buttering me up by commenting on the blog, then posting an ad.

Spam is the only type of comment that I will delete from this blog. I'm hoping I don't have to turn on the feature that makes you fill in the text before posting. I've been running this blog for over a year and those two pieces of spam were pieces number 2 and 3. I've only had one other instance.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled blog. Today's uncyclopedia word: Numpad

Have an extra car laying around?

You could try to do something like this.

The claim is that it took 606 takes to get it right.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Game walkthroughs...

A 'walkthrough' is document that helps you get through a game. Zelda, Half-life, MYST, all can be confusing games. But with a bit of help, they become more managable for those that don't want to spend a lot of time on the game, but still want to finish it.

I've always been impressed by the voluminous walkthoughs out there. Sometimes there are documents that are well over 200 pages long. All written by fans, and made available for free.

So, it is no wonder that Wikibooks is a good place to put these documents. Why not let others share in the work? Or if you know something that is not in a particular walkthrough, it's easier to edit one already written, than write your own.

But, while I was searching through, I found a 'walkthrough' for Space Invaders. Really. Space Invaders.

I'd like to meet the person who asks for a walkthrough of a game where you have a joystick that only moves left and right, and a single button that fires your cannon. :)

Sunday Cooking...

I have always loved to cook. I think it's because my 'real life' is so complex. School takes 4 months to complete. Work projects often drag on for months at a time as well. But there is nothing so refreshing as starting a project in a clean kitchen, and then two hours later you end up with a clean kitchen, plus some morsely treat. When I am at home, I probably do 90 percent of the cooking. It is a wild challenge to start 6 things a-cooking, and orchestrate it such that by the time you are done, all 6 dishes are done at the same time. I usually can manage to do this without messing up the kitchen. I clean as I go, so that when dinner is on the table, the only dishes that need to be cleaned are those used in the consumption. My wife and I have an unwritten rule that if you cooked the meal, the other person cleans up. So when I sit down to those 6 steaming dishes (maybe an apple crisp is just starting to cook in the oven), I know that when I'm done eating, I can wander into the other room for a quick nap.

Anyway, this afternoon the boys and I made cookies. This little baby has about 60 cousins piled on a plate on top of a clean counter. Frosty milk is in the fridge.

I'm a happy fellow, trying not to think of all of the chaos that waits for me on Monday.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Dissertation Thoughts

I'm taking a class this semester on Problem Based Learning. I took the class because one day I observed, to nobody in particular, that writing is nothing more than a series of problems. When you write you are solving problems. You solve big problems like setting, character, conflict, time line, story structure, etc. etc. etc. You also solve little problems like grammar, punctuation, dialog, etc. etc. etc.

It can be a difficult task. In fact, David Jonassen categorized this kind of problem as a 'design problem' and says they are "the most complex and ill-structured kinds of problems that are encountered in practice."

So, writing is extremely difficult problem solving, and students don't like to do it, right?

Well, look at fan fiction. There are literally tens of thousands of stories out there written not for credit but for fun. Why is fan fiction so popular? I personally think one of the reasons is that part of the "most complex and ill-structured" problem has already been solved.

Think about it. If I go and write a Seinfeld episode on Fan Fiction, the character problem has already been solved. The setting problem is solved. The conflict between George and... well, almost everybody, already exists; it's been solved. I can focus on smaller problems.

What if we found another way to help solve some of the problems of writing? We would do so in an attempt to provide scaffolding to students. One way scaffolding could be provided, a way I'm very interested in, is the wiki environment. What if creative writing was created in groups, in a wiki style environment? I'm not talking about the writing exercise where everybody writes a paragraph, and you end up with an awful story that twists, changes voice, and goes nowhere. I'm talking about an instructor or author who writes a story, (you could call it a 'kernel', though it would be a complete story, or chapter), and then let others add to it. The 'author' would have ultimate power over what stays, and would probably re-write much of what is added, to maintain a consistent voice, but I can't help but think, much like what happens over at the wikipedia, the end result would be a positive thing, or at least a fascinating one.

I'm actually quite interested in this idea, and plan to write my second book in such an environment (when I can find a wiki, or build one, that suits my needs). Who knows, maybe I can even write my dissertation on the topic. My secret dream is to write my dissertation in such an environment, but then I might not be awarded a full Ph. D. Maybe I'd only get a Ph, which we know is just the sound an F makes, which might be fitting, when you stop to think about it.

Anyway, if you would like to help write the sequel to Chickens in the Headlights, keep checking back in.

When life hands you a lemon...

...describe it in an e-mail and win a cruise.

Apparently this guy gets fired because he ate 2 pieces of pizza. His co-workers had planned on taking it home. The co-workers (and seriously now, who would want to work with these people), report him to upper management (and seriously now, who would want to work FOR these people) who fired him a month later.

Maybe there were extenuating circumstances, but it's still a funny story, as are the rest of the ones mentioned in the article.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sailing and Diving

I attended a family reunion last week, and had a most enjoyable time. Two things in particular were quite enjoyable.

The first was something I haven't done in over 15 years. We were up at Bear Lake and went to a swimming pool. They had a diving board and one of the sister-in-laws egged us on to do some diving. I don't know why I found it so fun. Maybe because it's not every day that you find yourself flying through the air, your feet above your head. I found out that I can still even do a flip, though not very well.

The second thing I found so enjoyable was something I've wanted to do every since reading C. S. Forester's Horation Hornblower series (I read the books after watching a few of the movies). Oh sure, Hornblower was captain of 45 gun ship of the line boats, while mine was a single passenger Laser. But I managed to not topple the boat while learning the basics of sailing. And Bear Lake is a nice place to learn how to sail because if you fall out of the boat, chances are you're only in 2 feet of water anyway.

Regardless, I found sailing to be every bit intoxicating as Forester made it out to be.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I was reading an article by Maria Virvou, George Katsionis, and Konstantinos Manos that was quite interesting. It's called Combining Software Games with Education: Evaluation of its Educational Effectiveness. It can be found in the Educational Technology & Society Journal, 8(2), pages 54-65.

While I enjoyed the article, I can't help but disagree with a main premise of the article. The authors' first sentence reads:

"The process of learning is a very complex cognitive task that can be very imposing on students since it requires a lot of effort from them. Consequently, they need a lot of motivation to cope with it."

In other words, learning is so imposing and complex, that students need motivation in order to learn. I agree with that statement. Very much so. But learning is its own motivation. Kids learn all the time in spite of the fact that it's complex and imposing.

It is my opinion that kids love to learn. I love to learn. It's a fun process. Yes, at times it's difficult, but it's exciting, it's exhilarating.

The main problem I have with the article is that they use learning and going to school synonymously. The authors go on to state:

"School children usually have a preconception of educational means as being totally different from entertainment. entertaining aspect of education would be rather unexpected."

That may be true but it's the school that teaches them learning is not entertainment.

Kids spend their first 5 years learning all sorts of fun thing. When any 5 year old runs up to you and says, with his eyes flashing, "Guess what?", chances are he's learned something and wants to share it with you. He's excited. He had a problem, but he's figured something out.

But then we put them in school, where they have to sit quietly (I'm of the opinion the more you're learning, the more noise you're making), you have to do worksheets, you have to stay inside, you can't chew gum, you can't ask your neighbor a question... And then we tell them that they are 'learning'.

I think learning is doing, learning is fun, learning is often play. Schools just are not in a position to do that very well (I can't barely keep up with my 4 boys when they are 'learning' , let alone a school teacher trying to keep up with 30).

Anyway, the conclusion of the article was that when students learned a specific topic in a fun atmosphere, they learned better. With that aspect, I certainly agree.

Monday, August 29, 2005

It's a beautiful thing...

So, I just checked the wikibook article I added to the other day and found that it has already been expounded upon. Most of my stuff was left in tact, but another user has talked about the benefits of Morse code, and how specifically you would handle a multiple choice test.

It's nice to be part of something so grand.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


The uncyclopedia article of the day. Lederhosen.

And for months I've thought about what my first input might be to wikipedia. What piece of informational nugget might I grace the world with? I had grand plans but things went awry when I came across the wikibook entitled, "A guide to cheating during tests and examinations". The temptation was too great. I added my own two cents when I realized that nothing had been submitted under the heading "Application of Codes". I don't know if my entry will stick. I don't even know if the book will be there much longer, but you can read here while it lasts.

And in case it gets pulled down, for the record, this was my first input to the glorious collaborative effort of wikipedia:

Application of codes

Prior to an examination, you can establish a code with a smarter classmate. A cough might mean, "What is the answer to question 1?" And a sneeze in reply might mean, "The Boston Tea Party". The biggest problem with codes is the number of bodily functions that can be performed during an examination are limited. Essay tests can prove to be particularly tricky, while multiple choice tests are much better suited for the 'code' approach.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Google IM

Nice review of Skype and Google Talk. I'm using Google talk and find it to be nice and easy.

The only downside I see to both Skype and Google Talk is you are limited to chatting with one person at a time. I understand that it might be a technical requirement when you actually talk with somebody, but I often chat with 3 or more folks online. I'm keeping MSN messenger around for that purpose.

Google Talk is integrated with my g-mail which makes things nice and handy.


I posted recently about open textbooks on the wikipedia site. There were a couple of books that looked interesting, but I wonder if this one will last for very long.

A book like this could come in handy...

Why don't we settle?

My 1 year old is at the stage that always amazes me. Or rather he is at ONE of the stages that always amazes me.

The little guy is an expert crawler. He can either crawl on his hands and knees, or his hands and feet if he is on something rough like cement or broken glass. He is very quick. If I drop a chocolate chip in the kitchen, he hears it from the other room and there is a 'tot tot tot tot' as he comes roaring into the room to retrieve his prize.

He has also just started walking. His walking is horrible. He takes two steps, then goes down in a blaze of glory. He lands on his rear, his face, his side, or his gut. He just isn't that good at it.

So the part that amazes me is that he keeps trying. He already has a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation. He is good at it. Why try to learn something new?

I don't have the answer, but it doesn't stop after walking. The human race is always trying to find new 'ways', even when the old ways seem to work just fine. We weren't happy with walking, we had to capture animals and ride them. Then we had to build machines for the animals to haul. Then we got tired of shoveling animal droppings, so we got rid of the animals and just went with the machines. Then we looked up at the birds and though, "That's not fair", and the next thing you know we're up in the sky and beyond.

I guess according to the theory of evolution, you can't ever sit on your haunches and decide that 'this' is good enough. You've got to be moving forward, ever forward, or you're left behind.

So, sore bottoms notwithstanding, I'm sure within a week's time, my little guy will have given up the knees, and moved to the feet. One step forward on the road to a better way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It's all in the eye of the beholder...

Some are calling this a disaster. A security robot attacks the Japanese Prime Minister. Apparently it threw up a smoke screen right after meeting the PM.

Politicians, smoke screens... It somehow seems perfectly rational to me.

Monday, August 22, 2005

VR Therapy

Video game developers have moved into a new field. VR therapy allows Doctors to help "combatants cope with the personal psychological effects of war".

This is a photo of the highest jump ever by a human being. It was done back in the 60s as part of the space program. An interesting article on the story can be found here. He jumped at an altitude of over 100,000 feet above the earth (if you convert that to meters, it's a lot of meters too...). He was technically in the vacuum of space.

This guy broke the speed of sound, with his body, he was going so fast.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Bit of Sunday Poemtry

I started reading Shel Silverstone to my son when he was barely old enough to talk. He could never understand why a single verse was called a poem, and a collection of poems was called Poetry. So he always called it poemtry, and somehow the name has stuck...

Anyway, I've been reading the Spoon River Anthology (that can be found here in its entirety) and came across this verse;

Conrad Siever

NOT in that wasted garden
Where bodies are drawn into grass
That feeds no flocks, and into evergreens
That bear no fruit—
There where along the shaded walks 5
Vain sighs are heard,
And vainer dreams are dreamed
Of close communion with departed souls—
But here under the apple tree
I loved and watched and pruned 10
With gnarled hands
In the long, long years;
Here under the roots of this northern-spy
To move in the chemic change and circle of life,
Into the soil and into the flesh of the tree, 15
And into the living epitaphs
Of redder apples!

For some reason, that verse strikes my fancy.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

What won't they think of next?

Looks like Wikipedia now has text books?

Open Application List

This is a nice list of some of the open, free and reliable programs availbale out there. While I can't vouch for all of them (I haven't used some, and don't like a few on the list), I do us use many of them. Those that I do use (and vouch for) include; Firefox, Sharpreader, skype, google toolbar, iTunes, Audacity, Picasa, Gimp, Quicktime, and Open Office.

Yet Another Function of Google Maps

Google maps have been 'hacked' (I'm using that word in the original sense, meaning a cool way to do something, instead of the media twisted sense meaning a malicious prank) in yet another cool way. You can now track from where people are visiting your blog. You don't have to give any information out, not even your e-mail. It's quite nice. I registered this blog a few days ago and just got my first European hit.

One interesting thing is that my brother, serving in Iraq, visits my site, and yet it does not show up as coming from Iraq. He thinks that he may be one of the East Coast sites because of the way the military routes their communications.

Anyway, another application and demonstration of the beauty of openness.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Do you Yahoo?

Maybe you should Google instead. Yahoo claims to search more than 20 billion 'web items', to Google's measly 8.1 billion. However, when compared side to side... "a user can expect, on average, to receive 166.9% more results using the Google search engine than the Yahoo! search engine."

Cross Your Fingers

iPodders everywhere are crossing their fingers. It looks like NPR may make more of their programs available online as podcasts. I'm a big fan of many programs on NPR, but if they're not on when I'm in the car (which, granted, is becoming more and more frequent), I just don't listen to them.

The Final Frontier

Having grown up on Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and others, I found this article interesting.

The authors lament the fact that the exciting ideas that came from those authors, ideas about long-distance space exploration, colonies on the moon and mars, etc. are not being realized.

From the article:

"Without taking anything away from the astronauts, the biggest accomplishments of the Discovery mission were that a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles.

Maybe Real Time 2030 will fret about how our college kids do little more than steal full-res holographic porn when they're not getting their financial identities stolen by cyber-jihadists eager to build more backpack nukes.

A common theme of those dog-eared, much-loved paperbacks was that the Earth of the future was the dull place, a decadent dead end reserved for the poor, the defective and the luckless. (Think "Blade Runner" with its promise of a new life awaiting you in the off-world colonies.) In fact, we remember flipping ahead irritably to see when the characters' dull visits to Earth would end and they'd get back on the spaceships where they belonged. It never occurred to us that the parts we wanted to skip would be the only parts we'd get to live."

It's a good article.

Friday, August 12, 2005


After reading this article, I'm afraid to even forward an e-mail to somebody else for fear of copyright violation. With the revolutionary changes in technology, can't an argument be made that maybe a revolutionary change in the copyright laws might be in order?

It makes Dvorak's comments about how Creative Commons is unnecessary all the more silly.


So, I got a royalty check in the mail from Covenant today. I finally learned how many copies of my book have been purchased...

It's kind of an eye opener. Covenant initially published 5000 books, and have sold over 3000 of the first printing.

I came into this whole book publishing thing pretty naive to the whole process. It's actually been quite the education. One of the most interesting things I have found has been how my book has sold in Deseret Book, verses Seagull Book and Tape.

I have been tracking DB sales and to date, the entire chain has sold 225 books. I don't know what is normal, but I was pretty sure that those numbers were pretty pathetic. However, as I did book signings at the Seagull stores, I found that they were selling quite a bit better. Now that I've got the 'official number' it's clear that Deseret Book has sold less than 10 percent of the total number.

Why the difference? Isn't it true that if you write a good book people will buy it? Ha ha, that is what I thought. What it actually comes down to is how you sell it. DB takes my book and puts in on the shelf, spine out. SB takes my book and makes a pretty display, right up front. They have me come in and sign copies. Covenant sends 'demo' copies to the Seagull employees so that they read the book before it hits the shelves, then they can tell customers about it.

So in other words, SB has been pushing my book, and DB hasn't.

The long and short of it is that I still don't know if I wrote a good book or not. :) It sells well, but only when people in the stores are saying, "pssst, buddie. Wanna buy a book?" Who knows what will happen when SB moves my book to the back shelf to make room for other new books.

There are two ways for me to sell more books. One is that I can take copies of my book and start pushing them on people. I can hold little Amway meetings at my house, call my friends and family, push, push, push...

That's not going to happen.

The second way is for me to write a sequel. Then I 'earn' a right to have another book put out on the front display. Customers will come in, see the book, maybe recognize the name, and ask the clerk about it. The clerks will then say, "Oh, this is a sequel, it's very good (they will have to say that because they are pushing it, and there is a display), and over here we have the first book in the series..."

I'd like that to happen, but I have writers block like you wouldn't believe (especially if you've made it this far into this long blog post). Who knows if the second book will ever see the light of day? I've got work, teaching, school... Oh yeah, and four kids.

So, it has been a fun little ride, and it may keep going. The highlight for me is when I think that 3000 people have picked up a copy of my book, read a bit about my life, and maybe even chuckled over it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Whipper Snappers

Funny story over at wired. A high school thought it would be a good idea to get all their students laptops. They put filters and monitoring software on them, but of course the kids found ways around these limitations and did horrible, unspeakable things. Like download iChat.

The long and short of it is that educators, unable to stop the kids from 'breaking the rules', called in the cops.

In order for the kids to get around the barriers that educators set up, they needed to know the password. How did they crack it? From the article:

"...the password was taped to the backs of the computers."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Ipod, Itunes, and Podcasting

So, have you ever made a large purchase, then been the victim of buyer's remorse? You say to yourself, "What was I thinking?"

Well, I recently purchased an iPod and I'm pleased to say I have no such feelings. I love it. It has become my little travel buddy between Ogden and Logan, comforting me with music, photos, and especially podcasts.

I thought about reviewing the iPod, but I'm quite certain that I am the last living person to buy the little device, so I won't bother.

What I will review are a few of the podcasts I've been listening to. I'll keep it brief since I know you have the rest of the Internet to get around to viewing (when you get to this page, it's time to stop).


Free Talk Live - 4 stars. I've only listened to a few episodes, and while politically they are right up my alley, they too often come across as raving, perpetual whiners. There may be a time for enpassioned speach, but usually clear, brief, logical statements do a better job.

Ebert and Roeper - 5 Stars. Yes, THE Ebert and Roeper. This is what a podcast should be like! It's 20 minutes long. It's to the point. Nothing wrong with these bad boys. You can subscribe through the iTunes service.

Open Source - 4.5 Stars. This is another great podcast. The only 'downside' is the fact that they take calls. I'm all for experts getting to the point, and a friendly discussion, but often when callers start coming in it just gets a bit tedious. If you want audience participation, set up a discussion board. Open Source is an hour long.

Quirks and Quarks - 5 Stars. I've only listened to a few, but another great podcast. 20 minutes long, interesting topics. Very nice podcast.

TWiT - 4.5 Stars. Great podcast. The only reason this didn't get 5 stars is because it's a mite long, and it has John C. Dvorak, AKA The Troll. I've blogged about him before.

Skepticality - 2 stars. This is a popular blog, but I find it tedious. If they boiled it down to 20 minutes it would be very interesting. I also don't much care for the personalities.

Science Friday - 4.5 stars. NPR on your iPod. That sends shivers up my spine just typing it.

Diggnation - 3 stars. Interesting topics, but childish personalities.

Ok, that is enough for now...

Make Those Spammers Pay...

It looks like Microsoft just won a suit against a spammer. 7 million dollars, to be exact.

I heard that Bill Gates is going to use the money to send people to Disneyland. All you have to do is forward this blog to Bill Gates. Or something like that...

Sunday, August 07, 2005


I wrote a short story a while ago, hoping that I could turn it into a script for a machinima movie, using Counter-Strike as my 'camera'. Maybe I will someday, but for those not familiar with the beauties of machinima, this is a great introductory article.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Several months ago I wrote about a group of MIT students who created a random paper generator and then submitted it to a conference. It was quite the joke when they were accepted. Well, they received a few donations, went to the conference, and presented their paper. And, as promised, captured the whole thing on video. You can view it here.

More Booksignings...

Just when I thought I was done!

I just found out I am going to be doing a book signing at education week. I'll be at the BYU bookstore on August 16 from 2pm-4pm, and then at the South Orem Seagull Book Store on August 18th, from 5:30-7:30.


So I've known about snipes for a long time, but just recently heard about Skype.

Since I now work in a different county from where I live, and don't have a cell phone, there is no way to communicate with the homestead. We've been using MSN when we need to, and although I can chat with the best of them (sometime I need to write an essay about all of the wonderful possibilities that the chat medium affords humor). But hey, chatting is chatting. I can't talk to the kids. Actually the oldest can type, but it usually consists of him asking for links to movies.

Anyway, I heard about Skype, download it, and in about 45 seconds my wife and I were chatting. It is easy to use, and although you can only talk to somebody else who has Skype (unless you want to pay), it's a wonderful, wonderful thing.

So, if anybody else out there wants to get it, throw me on your list of buddies and Skype me anytime you want.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What am I supposed to do with the stickers?

So, I did something today I've never done before. Ever.

I bought an apple product.

It's not that I avoid Macs. Or hate them. Or love Windows machines. It's that I'm lazy. I grew up using a PC, I know all the shortcuts, I'm comfortable with them. It would be painful for me to switch to a mac.

Anyway, I don't think I've mentioned that I got a new job, and one of the perks is that I spend two hours a day in a car. Now I enjoy NPR, a few news stations, and every once in a while I'll catch a song I recognize (sometimes I even like the song!), but it's getting old. And what with podcasting now available on iTunes, and all of the time...

Long story short, I am the new father of an iPod.

I'm just installing software and syncing up songs now. I will blather on later about how much I like/hate the device.

Oh, and I have these two apple stickers. What am I supposed to do with them? I can't likely put them on my dell, I'm sure that will cause all sorts of problems with Windows.

Maybe I'll sell them on e-bay.

Monday, August 01, 2005


What do you say when this happens? A man spends almost 20 years in prison, is denied parole because he won't confess to the crime, and then we discover that it in fact wasn't him that did it.

Seriously, what do you say? "Sorry about that... Boy is our face red."

Somehow that doesn't seem to cut it. How do you make up for 19 years of a man's life? How do you make it up to him, how do you make it up to his kids?


My cousin told me yesterday that my book, Chickens in the Headlights, was used in his Sunday school lesson at church. I had to laugh, and then ask, 'what could they possibly have used my book for? He told me the topic was Doctrine and Covenants section 123. I read the first line in the introduction which says, "The saints should collect and publish an account of their sufferings and persecutions."

My book is about life with 7 boys under the age of 10. There is plenty of suffering and persecution. It's been collected and recorded, though I don't think we were necessarily saints.

I guess I can see the connection.

Can't Top That

I may as well drop out of my doctoral program. My younger brother has upstaged me. He has written his masters thesis, a feat for which he should be applauded. And I do applaud him. But what is even cooler, in my opinion, is the fact that he used the word 'fart' in his dissertation. Impressive, no? What makes it even more impressive is the fact that he goes to school at BYU. That is right, a dissertation at BYU using the word fart.

I know I can't make a claim like this without proof, so you can see the dissertation here. It's on page 12. *Edited to clarify* (Page 1 of the dissertation, but page 12 of the pdf document).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

It Builds Character...

This story is enough to turn your stomach. A coach offers one of his players $25 to hit his disabled teammate in the head. Apparently the disabled boy wasn't a good player. The coach wanted him out of the game. I'm thinking those are the wrong kind lessons to be teaching the young'ns.

My Last Booksigning...

My last day of book signings is this Saturday. I'll be down in Utah County at the following locations.

30-Jul - American Fork- Seagull 10:30a-12p
30-Jul - North Orem - Seagull 12:30p-2p
30-Jul - South Orem - Seagull 3p-4:30p

I have enjoyed the booksignings, if for no other reason than to have had the experience. I don't sell a lot of books, and I don't really meet anybody (nobody talks to me, I suspect it's the beard), but stangely enough it's still been fun. The best part is when people I know have heard about the signings and come in to see me. I've had some family come in and some friends...

Anyway, it will also be nice to be done. I've been doing these things for 6 weeks straight now, and the lawn is really looking like it should be mowed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dear Senator Clinton...

An excellent letter to Senator Clinton can be found over at the LA Times. It really is a good read. I'll quote several of my favorite sections here, just in case your clicking finger is tired.

"If the alternative to playing "Halo 2" is reading "The Portrait of a Lady," then of course "The Portrait of a Lady" is better for you. But it's not as though kids have been reading Henry James for 100 years and then suddenly dropped him for Pokemon.

"Parents can play this at home: Try a few rounds of Monopoly or Go Fish with your kids, and see who wins. I suspect most families will find that it's a relatively even match. Then sit down and try to play "Halo 2" with the kids. You'll be lucky if you survive 10 minutes.

"[It] is not merely a question of hand-eye coordination; most of today's games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives. In short, precisely the sorts of skills that they're going to need in the digital workplace of tomorrow.

"Which activity challenges the mind more — sitting around rooting for the Packers, or managing an entire football franchise through a season of "Madden 2005": calling plays, setting lineups, trading players and negotiating contracts?

"The last 10 years have seen the release of many popular violent games, including "Quake" and "Grand Theft Auto"; that period has also seen the most dramatic drop in violent crime in recent memory.

"Of course, I admit that there's one charge against video games that is a slam dunk. Kids don't get physical exercise when they play a video game, and indeed the rise in obesity among younger people is a serious issue. But, of course, you don't get exercise from doing homework either.

P2P Users Not Evil?

Can it be true? Those who use P2P services are also spend four and a half times more money on legal downloads than those who do not use P2P services. Granted, a lot of that is probably because those using the legal downloads are tech savy, but still. It looks like people are trying before they are buying.

From the article:

"There's a myth that all illegal downloaders are mercenaries hell-bent on breaking the law in pursuit of free music."

In reality hardcore fans "are extremely enthusiastic" about paid-for services, as long as they are suitably compelling."

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ads in Games

I'm fine with them putting ads in my video games, as long as they give me the games for free... I'm not about to pay $50 for comercials.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

No More Sun Bathing For Me

I just found my house on MSN's answer to Google Maps.

This is as close as I can get to my house on Google Maps.

Clearly Microsoft has a better picture of my back yard, but is that a good thing?

Thursday, July 21, 2005


My mom (mum) and dad (dad) are visiting London this week and next... So this story wasn't exactly welcome news. But apparently there are no casualties, so that is good.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Google Maps

If you haven't used Google Maps yet, you really should give it a try. It's a great tool, and it's open source so you can do all sorts of fun things with it.

If you have used google maps, and think you've been everywhere, then head on over here and check out the latest space Google has gone.

And make sure to zoom all the way in. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Creative Commons

So I just read an article by John Dvorak. The title is "Creative Commons Humbug", but it might just as well be, "I'm clueless and snarky".

I had a nice post all thought out in which I make fun of little John, but the Slashdotters are doing a much better job of it that I could. My personal favorite:

"Looks like I need to add another quote to my long standing list of jack-assery from Dvorak:

1998 Folks, the Mac platform is through - totally.
1990 I think Windows 3.0 will get a lot of attention; people will check it out, and before long they'll all drift back to... DOS.
1986 UNIX is dead, but no one bothered to claim the body.
1984 The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a mouse. There is no evidence that people want to use these things.
- John Dvorak"

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Belly Laugh

So I was driving down to SLC to do another book signing (didn't sell any books, but I saw my cousin Kristy, so the trip was worth it). Saturday radio is almost as exciting as collecting early French tin foil. There are the travel shows which are bad. There are the garden shows which are worse. But perhaps the more pitiful of all are the car shows. I don't think I could find any subject less interesting that people talking about fixing cars...

So why, after listening to the news, did I turn my dial to NPR hoping beyond hope that Tom and Ray Magliozzi were on? And why did I break out in a smile when I found out that for my entire drive I could sit and listen to them talk about fixing cars?

Because they are the masters of the belly laugh.

Car Talk is a funny program, and Tom and Ray are funny guys, but they aren't especially funny. I can think of many different programs, books, or people who are much funnier. But I rarely laugh as long or as hard as when I'm listening to these guys. I break out in laughter at least 5 times during the show because they have broken out in laughter.

One lady called in, and one of the brothers made a funny comment. The other brother broke out into a great big belly laugh. I could hear him pounding on a table. After a few seconds, I could hear him pounding on a table, he was laughing so hard. He couldn't stop. I couldn't even remember what had been said, but suddenly I couldn't stop laughing. The caller started laughing. Both brothers are still laughing. And in my mind, I can picture them doing the belly laugh.

A belly laugh is one where your whole front side just starts a twitching, jerking, and (if you've got the extra spare tire), jiggling. When you see somebody engaged in a good belly laugh, unable to stop, you can't help but join in. Tears usually follow a belly laugh that goes on for more than 10 seconds. You usually have so much energy you have to slap a knee, or a table, or the back of somebody near you. It is just a happy, happy time in life, and you almost never belly laugh alone. It is something that has to be shared and is highly contagious.

So, treat yourself to a good belly laugh today. It's fun, it's good for you, and if you are lucky enough to belly laugh until you acheive the coveted snort, then by golly, count yourself lucky.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

This is always nice to see...

Cory Doctorow is releasing his book online for free, the same day it is being 'published'.

On his site he gives the reasons why, as well as a great quote from Woody Guthrie:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

I'm About to Commit a Crime...

An Australian man has beed found guilty of a crime involving free mp3s. He wasn't making them available to others, rather he linked to a page that was making them available to others. I guess you need to be careful what you link to. From the article:

Although Cooper didn't host pirated recordings per se, the court found he breached the law by creating hyperlinks to sites that had infringing sound recordings.

So, here we go... I'm taking the step into the underworld. I'm going to commit a crime.


There you have it. Move along folks, there is nothing more to see here.