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.