Thursday, December 28, 2006

DB Buys Seagull and Covenant

It was announced today that Seagull Book and Tape and Covenant Communications was bought by Deseret Book. For those that aren't really familiar with the LDS fiction world, this is kind of like Microsoft buying out Apple.

As an author with Covenant Communications, I for one, welcome the new overlords.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. On the one hand, maybe this will mean I can do book signings with Deseret Book. Maybe my next book will be displayed in the front of DB stores as well as Seagull, instead of in the back. Maybe I'll see my book in Wal-mart, Smiths, and other places were DB is.

On the other hand, what about the customer? It was rumored that DB was a bit peeved at how much SB was 'slashing prices'. With DB owning everything on God's Green earth, they can now set the prices as they see fit.

One could argue that one of the smaller publishers now has the chance to shine, but I don't think so. The reason Covenant has done so well is because they owned so many book stores. No other publisher is in this position.

It will be very interesting to see what happens over the days and weeks to come.

More coverage of the story.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Frankly, It's About Time

I've been passed over too many years now, but finally, Time magazine get's it right.

I am the magazine's person of the year. I know, hard to believe, but there it is.

Oh, and you are too.

I see this as a very good thing. The internet has empowered the little guy. I can publish my own blog. I can make a video and post it to YouTube. We can now all do it oursleves. We no longer need The Man, because we are The Man. The Man of the year, that is. :)

Unless you're a woman, in which case you no longer need The Man because you are The Woman. This is a gender neutral blog, brother.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I just recieved word that my book is going to be reprinted. So if you want a 'first edition', better run to the stores now. :)

It's a small second run, so they aren't making very many changes. The only thing I'm aware of is fixing a small error we found after the first one printed. If you've read the book, you'll notice that all of the chapters have a name except for the last one. So if you ever want to tell the difference between the first edition and the second, look to the last chapter and see if it has a title.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Book Signing

I just did a book signing at the Ogden Standard Examiner on Saturday, and should have mentioned it here. I don't do too many signings anymore. I'm more likely to do a book club or elementary school visit. And those are a lot of fun. But I am doing a second book signing. The Book Table, right here in Logan Utah, has a midnight madness sale this Friday from 7:00 to midnight. Should be fun. I think they usually have a dozen or more authors, all in one place, so feel free to drop on by!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hidden Treasures

The other day I came across a program that I have to pass on to any fellow poly-sci nuts. I'm a sucker for all things political, and found a treasure at our local library. It's an old British Sitcom called "Yes Minister". Now this certainly isn't Black Adder, or Fawlty Towers, but if you like politics, then this is the program for you.

When I watch an episode I find myself both laughing, and cringing at the same time. Laughing because it's so funny, and cringing because it really nails the subtle problems that arise out of the constant struggle between elected officials and the bureaucracy. I know, doesn't exactly sound like side-splitting television, but it's an acquired taste.

I've often said if I could only make high school students read two civics texts, the second would be the Constitution, and the first would be P. J. O'Rourke's classic Parliment of Whores. Well, now if I'm teaching that class, and have access to a television, I'm now going to include Yes Minister as requried content.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Itellectual Property Rights

Nice report out of the UK today. It offers four models for intellectual property rights.

"The study details four models which balance these competing interests in different ways. First, there's the American model, where knowledge is understood solely as an asset. Some fair use, parody, and public domain rights are recognized, but consumer rights are restricted, copyright terms are extended, and DRM trumps fair use. This is because knowledge is viewed as a form of property, not a social good. As the study notes, there is a danger in this approach: "Where IPRs [intellectual property rights] are understood as comparable to conventional property rights, public domain could potentially disappear altogether, just as the enclosure movement eradicated common land all over the UK in the late 18th century."

"The second model currently describes the UK, where knowledge is an asset first and a public resource second. This means that producers are generally protected first, and while more consumer rights may be upheld, the relationship between DRM and fair use is not resolved, and copyright terms may be continuously extended.

"The third model is that of a society where knowledge is first seen as a public resource and only secondarily as an asset. Comparing this to the "open access" movement in academic publishing, the authors note that such an approach is not anti-business. Under this model, public interest is the basis for IP policy, copyright terms are not extended, and fair use trumps DRM.

"Finally, the fourth model is "cyber-socialism," where knowledge is seen only as a public resource and copyright is not allowed. The profits of creativity are returned to the public and a "new ethic of playfulness and voluntarism" is the norm. The authors see these ideals at work in open source projects like Linux and Wikipedia, but point out that "it is not clear how such a model could be used to fit in investment-heavy models of innovation and creativity, such as the development of drugs or films."

I aggree with their recommendations:

"When it comes to issuing recommendations, the report is clear: the UK should move gradually from the second model to the third. The obvious objection that arises is that such a model is "anti-business" and does not reward producers for their investments of time and money. The authors of the report shrewdly point out, though, that "the goal of a policy framework that suits business in general is illusory." Business is not a monolith; while certain approaches to intellectual property might be better for certain types of businesses, companies can thrive even under the fourth model (think of open source firms like Red Hat). Furthermore, the authors believe that making knowledge a social good first will actually foster increased innovation and therefore more money for UK businesses."


Monday, October 30, 2006

So, as many of you know, I'm working on my doctorate, and have chosen collaborative composition as my topic. I wrote my last book in a wiki, and had a few folks drop by to 'help out'.

But I'd like to start a new work of collaborative fiction (CF), and I was wondering if anybody here would like to be involved. This project will be a short story, and I would think that in a few months it would be finished and ready to submit to some magazines

I think in an ideal world we would get at least 10 people who are willing to help out.

What would be required of you?
  • Should have fairly decent writing skills.
  • Should be willing/able to spend around 1 hour a week in reading/writing/editing our short story
  • Be able to work well with others (i.e. flamers need not apply ;)

What would you get in return?
  • You'd get your name in print (assuming we write something print-worthy). Everybody who helps out will be listed as a 'collaborative author.
  • If you're interested in learning to write better, this is almost like a writers group. You will be getting feedback on things you write
  • If this works out well, I'd like to see us write more stories, maybe even tackle something big like a book. Those that help out might get to choose the next story.
  • If the story gets published, and there is actual money recieved for it, I would like to take half of the money and put it toward a web site where more stories like this can be created. Users will be able to talk about stories, start their own, etc. The other half of the money will be divided evenly among anybody who has made a contribution to the story. So you'll be getting, like, $3.84 or something like that.
Anyway, is anybody interested? Let me know here, or send me an e-mail at marionjensen & gmail , com.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oh, how I hate that vending machine…

There is this vending machine in the place I live. It is filled with all sorts of interesting items. Some of them don’t look so good to me; organic tofu, extra wheaty fiber cakes, and a wide assortment of nuts and fruitcakes. But other items look quite tasty, and I often long to purchase one of them.

But every time I make a selection, instead of getting the item I want, I get one of two items sitting near the top of the machine. They both look putrid to me. They have no wrappers; they are bland, stale, and displeasing to the eye. I can’t tell the difference between either one of them, but they both drop to the selection tray in the same way a cow pie falls from the heifer.

I don’t know how anybody can stomach either one of these two choices, but they are quite popular. Almost without exception, everybody who inserts coins into the machine ends up with one or the other of these items. Some people actually select these two items, but many try in vain to choose another option.

I’ve been visiting this vending machine for 16 years, and never once have received the selection of my choice.

Why do I keep using this machine? Why don’t I demand its repair?

The problem is that the folks who benefit from selling these two products are the ones who maintain the vending machine. Why would they want to fix a machine that forces me to select one of their products? It’s a great situation for them. And they don’t much care that I get the shaft every time I attempt to make a purchase.

I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, about our wonderful voting system here in America. For 16 years I’ve been voting for third parties. I think many of them have some excellent points; points that aren’t being heard. I think the two parties are old, stale, and need to be routed. But my vote doesn’t matter. It never matters. A third party could get 49 percent of the votes, but if 51 percent vote for one of the evil two, then all of those folks are denied a voice.

It’s time to put the ‘representative’ back into representative democracy.

How to do that?

I don’t know.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Good News For Aspiring Authors

There is a perennial debate that circulates among authors and those aspiring to become authors. Can you teach good writing? If a person practices hard enough, can they learn how to write, or do they just need to have it 'in their blood'?

Well, it looks like there are those that argue that natural ability is not a requirement. You don't need a 'gift', you just need lots and lots and lots of practice. About 10 years, usually.

So, if you want to do anything, but think you can't because it just doesn't come easy to you...then practice. For another 10 years. And see what happens.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Isaac Zane

Checking the vitals
Originally uploaded by firemeboy.

300 Million?

Today marked the day that America passed the 300 million population mark. Those in the know estimate that sometime today the 300 millionth American was born. That will make an interesting tidbit for my son, who was born today at 1:44 PM. Obligatory pics here.

I have a few thoughts on the whole child birthing process. I freely admit I’m a sissy. I do ok with pain, and when the moving crew gets out and works, I feel like I can keep up with the best of them (except for David and Trent. Nobody keeps up with David and Trent). But when my wife is in pain, and there is nothing I can do about it, it’s torturous. The labor didn’t really start until around 11:30, but by the time the little guy was brought into the world, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I couldn’t stop pacing; I was tense and worried the entire time. I just don’t handle child birth very well.

I know, I know, it’s much worse for my wife, but at least she gets an epidural for the pain, nobody once offered me any drugs for my anxiety. Nor was I offered ice chips. Or Juice. Or a cool compress. I could have used any of those. I spent a lot of time with my head between my knees, and breathing into a brown paper bag.

I am proud of the fact that I cut the cord. Of course I was in such a stupor it turned out that I cut the cord to a lamp, but still, it’s a step in the right direction.

Anyway, Mom and baby are fine. Dad is tired, but is glad because of the whole ‘Mom and baby are fine’ bit. I look forward to peace and quiet that will come with 5 brothers in one house.

If nothing else, it will provide a lot of fodder for my next book.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

This is what the internet was made for...

Came across a great site called LibriVox They recruit readers, they take books in the public domain, and they record them. It's basically free 'books on tape'.

They roughly 300 completed projects including books, short works, poetry, and non-fiction. They have another 50 projects currently under way.

If you have a good voice, why not head over and volunteer?

Small Victories

Almost all of the writers I know aren't in it for the money. Sure, they'd like to make money. They hope that someday they might make money. But they write for other reasons. Some can't stop writing. Others find it therapeutic or enjoyable. But if making money is the only reason we wrote, 99 percent of us would stop, because we just don't make that much, if anything at all.

So we write for other things, and I take every victory I can get. Sure, there is a warm fuzzy when I open the letter from my publisher and see that they are paying me for putting words down on paper. But there is a much bigger warm fuzzy when a boy comes in for an autograph, and his mom tells me that he insisted they drive clear across town so that he can meet me.

Or when I get a package full of mail from an elementary class.

Or like the time a complete stranger told me that his wife was expecting, and he wasn't sure he was ready for another child, but after reading my book he is reminded that it's all worth it.

So, I never expect to quit my day job, and it's a lot of work writing and working with a publisher, and at the end of the day, I've put a whole lot more money in other people's pockets, than my own. But if somebody has chuckled over something I wrote...then it's all good.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Interesting Application

Interesting app that allows users to share what is on their bookshelf, give opinions, and read what others have said about the books they enjoy. Interesting way to find hidden nuggets in the long tail.

If you register, make sure to invite me (firemeboy) as a friend. I'm always looking for good books.

Not that I have time to read them, but hey...


I usually don't post on things political, but I am today for two reasons. First - it is after all, the season of politics. Elections are coming up, mud and other brown substances are being slung and hitting the fan. It's a great time to open a newspaper and read.

The second reason I thought I'd post on politics is I came across a pretty good article written by Lou Dobbs over on I actually don't pay a lot of attention on what happens back in Washington because it gets to the point where it hurts my brain. But if you read only one article this political season, I would recomend the above article.

And then, if that article doesn't meet your quota for words read in a campaign, I would also highly recomend an older book by P. J. O'Rourke called Parliment of Whores. If I could pick one book to be used by all of the civics teachers across America, it would be that one. Although O'Rourke and I don't share the same political party, we share a lot of the same opinions when it comes to government. And the book is downright hilarious to boot.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Looks like my second book, tentatively called Bullies in the Headlights, has been accepted and will be published in May 07!

Friday, September 15, 2006

I'm happy...

I have been discouraged for a week now. Last week I met with my publisher, and was told that the evaluations on my book looked really good, but that the young person they sent it to, who really liked Chickens in the Headlights, didn't think it was as funny. He still doesn't, but I was sent the adult evaluations today and they looked really good.

I'll admit it, I'm a person who needs external motivation. I'd like to be the kind of person who can just press on no matter what people say, but that's not the case. That is why I don't go to critique groups. People could go on and on and on about why a story is good, and then mention, "But you need work here". I become devastated, convinced I have no skill at writing, and stop working for months.

But these evals made me happy. A few quotes from them:

"It made me want to cry, laugh, burst from joy and run over and teach my kids this wonderful lesson Matthew learned."

"Wonderful book. I couldn't put it down. I got so involved that I forgot to take notes, like I usually do. That is a sign of a good book. "

"This is one of the most delightful manuscripts I have read since Chickens in the Headlights.

And then of course there is a little bit of vindication. I originally wanted to call my first book Chickens Don't Have Armpits. The sequel, which I was already working on, would be called Bullies Don't Have Armpits, which is a quote from this book. I thought both titles were pretty catchy, but my publisher went with Headlights instead. So in this book, when the evaluator was asked what other titles might be catchy...

"One of the chapters is titled "Bullies Don't Have Armpits." Perhaps this could work?"

Anyway, I don't post these to 'brag'. I'm just relieved that this 6 month labor of blood, sweat, tears and love has turned out in a fairly positive manner. I'm excited to find out if my publisher picks it up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Free Textbooks...

There are so many of these kinds of projects, that it's only a matter of time before one of them succeeds, and succeeds in a big way.

Internet users can now download full copies of out-of-copyright books for free using Google Book Search, Project Gutenberg and other websites, but another new project is promising up-to-date textbooks online, which will be constantly revised by scholars around the world.

"Education can play a fundamental role in reducing poverty, but high-quality and up-to-date textbooks are often too expensive for most people in developing countries.

"To make education more accessible, a professor in the University of Georgia Terry College of Business is spearheading an effort to produce free online textbooks using a modified version of the Wiki software that powers the Web site Wikipedia."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google Notebook

At work I help build USU OCW and we are building a nice library of content that can be used as is, or reused to fit your needs. But how hard is it to reuse the material we have put in our system? Will an entire course fit your exact needs? Or is our material simply a piece to a larger puzzle? A puzzle you are putting together with pieces pulled from all over the web?

I came across a tool that can make use and reuse a lot simpler. Google Notebooks allows you to keep notes while you wander the internet. What makes this tool nice is you can copy entire sections from web sites, add your notes, and then make the notes public. So if you are putting together some training on flowers, and you’d like to include our video segments on annuals and perennials, you can copy and paste our schedule into your notebook, add your own thoughts, add the rest of your material, and then share with it with the world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I suspected as much...

Median income is dropping...

Utah has taken the third biggest hit.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Google Does it Again...

Google now lets you download and print entire books (unfortunately only those in the public domain). So for example, want to read your kids Aesop's Fables? Click here. Download. Print.

You're good to go.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I'm not sure how I missed this announcement.

"[Jimmy Wales] also announced a new project called Wikiversity. It will serve as an online center for the creation and use of free learning materials and activities. It will create and host a range of free content materials, multilingual learning materials, for all ages in all languages. It’ll host scholarly projects and communities to support these materials, and foster research based in part on existing resources in Wikiversity and other wikimedia projects. Launching in three languages, in a six-month beta, within a month."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Germans Are coming...

Interesting article on an update to the German site that may help cut down on vandalism...

"In the German system, any user will still be allowed to make edits to any article. Those edits won't show up in the live version of the site, though, until a registered user with a certain level of time and experience approves the changes. It's a simple change, but one that could prevent the most juvenile forms of vandalism from ever appearing on the main site, which should do much to remove the appeal of vandalizing articles."

Ruby on Rails

So if this blog wasn't already enough of a pastiche of random information, I'm adding one more topic to the mix. Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails is an incredibly powerful something or other, that does this one thing really, really well. I don't know much about it, but I will say that I was immediately drawn to it. Why? Because it's Ruby on RAILS. RAILS! If it had been Ruby on Airwaves, then I wouldn't have much cared for it. But it's rails, baby. It conjures up images of a lovely train ride into the county, where you are never more than 3 feet off the ground.


Anyway, I'll likely be posting a few things for a class I'm taking this fall on Ruby.

Which, by the way, is the name of a horse that my sister-in-law just bought. And the horse is situated not 50 feet from a railroad track. But I have yet to make the obvious joke because a) nobdoy in my family is really into programming languages, and b) the image of her horse on a railroad track wouldn't be very funny to my sister-in-law, and I might get hit.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

An Exploding Coconut Update

For you long time readers of the blog, you will remember a post in which I described a strange event at my house, one that I could only explain away by arguing that coconuts must explode.

Well, last night I found a second such case. Naomi wrote and said that she too had a coconut explode in her house, and she was lucky not to have been around.

I suspect an epidemic. I think somebody somewhere is trying to disrupt our peaceful lives by selling us ticking coconuts.

So be warned, and stick with the flakes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Project Complete

So, I've finished my second book, Bullies in the Headlights. I also found myself a bit burned out by the end, so I switched audiences, and with the help of a brother and sister-in-law, started and finished a second book. It's a short one, only 6000 words, but I'm excited about it. My own children loved it.

Anyway, I will be spending the next month tweaking, cleaning, and adding a bit of depth to both books, and then will submit them to the publisher to see what they say. This is a painful time for an author. You've just gone through months of labor, delivered a brand new book, and now the cold, hard publishing world is going to examine it in depth, and let you know if your baby is 'worth' to be published.

There will be much weeping, wailing, and curling up in the fetal position before this is all over.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Copyright and Education

Interesting report out of Harvard. The Berkman Center has found that "provisions of copyright law concerning the educational use of copyrighted material, as well as the business and institutional structures shaped by that law, are among the most important obstacles to realizing the potential of digital technology in education."

Education reduces poverty and other social ills. In an age where we can move information almost without cost, nobody should be denied the right to better themselves by becoming educated. The outdated corporate laws, er... copyright laws, need to be fixed.

I've posted this story to digg. If you can help push it to the front page by digging it, that would be just swell...

Behold the power of the BlogMob

Great story on how somebody thought they could pass off other people's work as their own. No, it wasn't the police that caught the guy. It was the 'BlogMob'.

"Soon the thief's possible home address and phone number were made available (pretty scary), as well as the locations around the net of other photos published under his name. His Web site, Flickr account, and MySpace page were all either taken down or locked, all in a matter of hours. And sure enough, someone using the name of the thief eventually posted an apology.

"A lot of people were riled up about this whole thing, but I couldn't help but be anything but fascinated by the immense power of a closely networked community being demonstrated before my eyes. The blogmob has spoken and I will never doubt its power again."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I don't get why others don't get it...

Wikipedia has been bashed by just about everybody now. It's been called everything from inacurate to a public toilet. And yet it works so well.

I came across this article that discussed the recent prank attempted by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert.

From the article:

"In an attempt to prove that Wikipedia's version of truth is flexible, Colbert recently told viewers to alter the Wikipedia page on "elephant" to state that the population of African elephants had tripled in the last decade.

"This is, of course, untrue. But as Colbert stated, if enough people alter the page on Wikipedia, it's fact. It should have been the biggest threat to the institution of Wikipedia to date...

"There was just one problem with the prank: Colbert was ultimately proven wrong."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Long Tail

In celebration of YouTube growing out of control, I'd like to send you over to this little nugget, called The Day of the Long Tail.

I've heard the book is good too...

Got Math?

You no longer need to pay $150 for a math book. You can now get one for the low, low price of free ninety free.

Kudos to the authors.

"As time and resources allow, we will be adding 9 more free textbooks to this site, and the material will always be accessible to even the slowest of Internet connections."

Monday, July 31, 2006

In which I wax mathematical...

I had a thought the other day that may turn into my dissertation topic. I've been mulling over collaborative composition for some time now, but I think I may have finally found the right question. And with any luck, the ultimate answer to my dissertation just might be 42. Wouldn't that be something?

So I might be easiest to explain with an equation, although not a very good one. Let's assume that:

x = value of content produced by an expert.


a = value of content produced by an amateur.

Common sense would tell you that most of the time the following statement would be true:

x > a

In other words, the content produced by the expert is going to be more valuable than the content produced by an amateur. Not always, but usually.

The whole point of a wiki is that you have a group of people working on content. So instead of one amateur, you have several. So going back to the math:

x = n(a)

The question this equation poses is what is the value (or range of values) that makes this equation true? Or in other words, how many amateurs would you need working on content to make it as valuable as the content produced by the expert?

In speaking with David Wiley, I can't help but agree that it will likely end as an inverted U. The value of content with just a few amateurs would likely be low. And the value of content where there are hundreds or thousands of amateurs would also be low. But somewhere in there is a 'sweet spot', where the content produced by a number of amateurs is nearly as valuable as the content produced by the experts.

Now, there are a whole slew of problems here. What is valuable? Who is an expert? Who is an amateur? Etc. etc. etc. But I think that somewhere in there is my dissertation topic.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Update on Second Book

So, just a quick update on my second book. Bullies Don't Have Armpits (probably will become Bullies in the Headlights), is coming along nicely. I think I'm about two-thirds finished. The ending should be easier to write than the middle, because it's all worked out in my head. I'm going to try and finish the book by the end of August.

I've been trying to think about what to work on next. It should be my doctoral dissertation, but that I think I'd like to be working on something 'fun' as well. I've got a couple of ideas, including a third book in the 'Buckley' series. But I'm not sure. I need to come up with a good idea. I don't just want to write a third book because it's a nice round number. So that may sit on the back burner for a while. I've got a few other ideas for projects, including an online collaborative project with another author.

Only time will tell, I guess...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Great Conference...

I attended this conference last year at it was great. How many conferences do you get to go to where you end up fording the Logan River? Not too many, that how many.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Who does the work?

Interesting article over at the Guardian Unlimited. They are estimating that when folks get online, 1 percent of the population creates the content. About 10 percent will interact with it (comment or offer improvements), and the rest will just read or observe it.

That means that all of that nifty stuff out there is done by the few. So get cracking and add your own two bits. Join the elite. Become a part of the few, the proud, the producers... :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Two Sides are Talking...

Seagull Book has issued a press release regarding the recent decision by Desret Book to stop supplying Seagull with their products.

From the release:

"Seagull Book and Deseret Book have begun discussions to explore options for addressing the differences that have existed between our two companies," said Jon Kofford, executive vice president of Seagull Book. "In the meantime, Deseret Book has extended Seagull Book's ability to purchase Deseret Book products through the end of August 2006."

No additional details about the relationship between Seagull Book and Deseret Book will be forthcoming at this time."

At least they're talking...

Friday, July 14, 2006

More news on DB and Seagull

KSL has a further report that makes it sound like negotiations might still be underway, which is not what Deseret Book seemed to hint at the other day.

I'd really like DB to clarify what they mean by 'promotion'. As I've mentioned several times, it is clear that DB and Seagull Book both market their own stuff more than their competitors. So for DB to say they are just unhappy with how Seagull 'markets' is a bit of the kettle calling the pot black.

I still think it's all about the prices.

Good Insight...

Excellent article from a used-to-be insider at Deseret Book on their recent decision not to allow Seagull to sell their products. He says it's about the pricing, not the handling of merchandise.

"I think for Deseret Book's viability as an ongoing concern, after years of losses, this was a smart business move. I'm actually impressed that they thought it through, (hopefully!) ran the numbers, and made what I'm sure was a very tough decision. That shows leadership, forward thinking, and an overall unified strategy that hasn't always been there in the past.

On the other hand I think this may be a death warrant for Seagull and it is sad to see competition being run out of the market, especially when Seagull's offense is essentially offering people lower prices."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

If nothing else, people seem to be paying attention.

If you hop over to and look at their news stories, you will see people can comment on the stories. Most have comments in the single digits. A story on a dog driving a police car has over a hundred. But the Seagull/Deseret Book story has 250 comments and counting.

Most of it is your juvenile flaming, but some folks have some good thoughts on the subject...

More news...

More on the DB/Seagull move.

Deseret News
KSL Discussion
Salt Lake Tribune

According to Deseret News, the move came as a complete surprise to Seagull. Seagull was to hold a press conference today, but has postponed it until next week. DB did say that this wasn't a negotiation, rather a decision. So it sounds like they won't back down.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Salt Lake Tribune Article

Looks like the Trib has a brief article on the Seagull/Deseret Book situation.

It looks like the whole thing can be boiled down to a misuse of posters.

"As a premier brand, we provide all sorts of merchandising and marketing opportunities, such as posters and displays. They don't and haven't taken advantage of those (opportunities)."

If only Seagull had used those posters, this whole situation could have been avoided.

A few more thoughts...

A few more thoughts on the Deseret Book/Seagull controversy.

I'm sure that both publishers, DB Publishing and Covenant, wish that stores would put their books at eye level, and on the displays and on the end caps. I think this is a critical problem with the LDS publishing world - the two biggest publishers own the two biggest bookstore chains. I think there should be a separation between publisher and retailer. Let good books that are interesting and well written be put at eye level, not just because the publisher has a bunch of books back in the warehouse that they need to get rid of.

You can bet that an independent bookstore will get to know their customers, and push what they think will sell, not what the publisher wants them to sell (as is the case now with both DB and Seagull).

One thing I do find interesting... I am pretty sure that DB has a policy of matching prices at other bookstores. As of Aug 1., they will no longer have to meet Seagull's prices, because Seagull won't have prices! It's a very easy way to make more money, but the question is will the money gained by this move make up the money lost from the revenue that comes in from Seagull.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It is true...

I wrote to Deseret Book and they verified that they will no longer be selling to Seagull Book and Tape. Keith Hunter, VP of sales and Development, said that ""Deseret Book and Seagull have a long-standing difference in views regarding how Deseret Book products should be merchandised, promoted, and treated"

In other words, Seagull sells DB stuff for cheaper, and DB has to either match the price, or lose business.

It's all madness, and I hope it ends soon.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I hope this isn't true...

When I wrote my first book, the local Deseret Book bought 12 copies. They tucked them away on a back shelf, but within 4 weeks, despite the poor location, there were sold out. Since I was interested in how well my book was doing, I often would drop in to see if more books had been ordered, and if they were also selling.

But the strange thing is that the Deseret Book never ordered more of my books. They sold the original 12, and then never got any more in.

I used to ask the sales clerks if they were getting more, and they assured me that they were 'on order', but they in the 6 months that I checked, they never once got another one of my books.

Deseret Book didn't publish my book, so apparently they weren't interested in selling it.

Now there are rumors floating around that Deseret Book is resorting to heavy handed, monopolistic tactics. According to the rumor, Deseret Book will no longer allow Seagull Book and Tape to sell their products.

Deseret Book is hoping that by making customers come to their stores, they will run Seagull Book and Tape out of business. Since it's Seagull book and tape that sells Covenants' materials, I guess their hope is that Covenant will also go out of business, and this will leave them as king of the LDS publishing world, and they can sell their books for as much as they want.

Competition is healthy for the consumer because they always get a good price. Competition is healthy for the producers because they are forced to find better and more efficient ways to produce. The only people competition is not good for are those who want to make a whole lot of money without having to actually do any work.

Here is hoping that the whole thing is a rumor. Because if it's true, my second book may never see the light of day.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Steal This Book

Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book has been made into a wiki. You can now go and help 'update' According to an article on wikipedia, Hoffman's book contains advice on how to grow marijuana, "how to start a pirate radio station, live in a commune, steal food, steal credit cards, prepare a legal defense, make pipe bombs, and obtain a free buffalo from the US Department of the Interior".

I've always wanted a buffalo. Because I do love my chips.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wiki Lit Review

I've been spending a lot of time on a review of the literature on wiki technology. I just finished it last night. It seemed a waste not to put a paper on wikis in anything other than a wiki, so if you're feeling bored, and I mean really bored, bored enough that you want to curl up with a literature review on wikis, then feel free to mosey on over to the review.

Oh, and without question, feel free to edit it in any way you'd like. My grade depends upon your assistance. :)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I'm six months ahead of the curve...

OK, so I usually don't toot my own horn, but that is because I rarely have anything to toot about. But 6 months ago I mentioned in a blog post that it would be a good idea for directors to record a commentary of their movie, and then let people download the track, take it to a theater, and listen while they watch.

Looks like Clerks II will be the first movie to have this functionality. You will be able to download a commentary free from iTunes, and then go and watch the show.

Does that mean Kevin Smith has been reading my blog?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Interesting Article

Interesting article over in Computer and Compsition on open content and open source software.

"The use, development, and dissemination of open-source software (OSS) appears to be more in line with the liberatory, collaborative, epistemological ideals of institutions of higher learning than does commercial software. However, our primary and secondary research reveals that due largely to institutional pressures and labor issues, open source software options are often not explored or considered when teaching distance-learning writing courses."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Digg v 3.0

Digg has come out with it's latest version. You can now surf more topics. I love digg, but I also like what John C. Dvorak has to say about it in his most recent article.

"Meanwhile this democratization of the news, which is what Adelson harps on, is seen by the idealists in the community as profound. I see it as increasingly dangerous, for a number of reasons."

It's a good read.

Wikipedia 3.0

Interesting article on the semantic web and wikipedia.

"The problem with the Semantic Web, besides that researchers are still debating which design and implementation of the ontology language model (and associated technologies) is the best and most usable, is that it would take thousands or tens of thousands of knowledgeable people many years to boil down human knowledge to domain specific ontologies.

However, if we were to take the Wikipedia community and give them the right tools and standards to work with then that time can be shortened to just a few years, and possibly to as little as two years."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Not your father's wiki...

I've been doing a literature review on wikis, and while most of the articles have heaped on the praise for the potential of wikis. In on eof the articles, however, one of the teachers using a wikis said that "wiki is a pain to use, and it's ugly".

Well, you can't say that anymore... Wetpaint is pretty slick. And certainly not ugly.

You can read another peron's review here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Picasa Online

I've been using Picasa to manage my photos for at least a year now. Now they have an online feature to it. I just got an invitation, and it pretty slick.

I'm off to write them and request that they add a creative commons license to the list of options

For anybody interested, you can see my online album here. Not a lot there right now, but it may grow.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


A friend of mine is working on some social software, and of course the problem of moderation (some would call it censorship) has come up.

I'm reminded of the classic film 12 Angry Men. There is a great scene where one of the jurors stands up and starts spouting racist rhetoric. Slowly, one by one, ten of the other men turn around, get up, or leave the table. Only one man is left listening. When the racist finishes his speach, the last man stands up and says something to the affect of, "You've had your say, now sit down and don't say another word."

In other words, the community moderated itself. The community chose what to listen to, and what to ignore. I've been in communities where some 'higher power' gets to choose what thread gets locked down, or what individuals can say. I don't go back to them. Even though I'm rarely 'moderated', I just don't like the idea of somebody else being able to delete or change my words.

The problem of moderation is a difficult one, but not unsolvable. I think digg has come up with the best solution. There are no mods, and nobody with ultimate power to delete posts. Rather the community can vote whether or not a comment is valuable. Everybody has one vote, and if your comment gets enough negative votes, it is 'hidden' (not removed) so that nobody can see it unless they specifically click on a link. And you can also see comments that other people have 'dugg', so if you're just scanning an article, and one comment has 50 diggs, you know something insightful, clever, or worthwhile has been said. (It's kind of a rush when your comment gets dugg by a large number of people). I just had one of my comments get over 200 diggs, and it was kind of fun, in an incredibly geeky sort of way. It makes many folks comment with care.

The game industry, that has to manage (babysit?) hundreds of thousands of users, many of them obnoxious teenagers, has also found that self-moderation is the simplest and best way to do things.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This is interesting...

South America's indigenous Aymara people consider time in a different manner than the rest of the world.

"Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies' orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind."

In other words, the future is not ahead of us, rather it is behind us. It is the past that lies ahead of us.

When you think of it, it actually makes sense. We are facing forward, and can see what is up there. We can 'remember' the past. It is behind us that we cannot see, and thus it is 'the future'.

Monday, June 12, 2006


A friend sent me a link to this.

Ink is a self-described PAW, or "persistant alternate world." It's designed to teach writing and foster a community. Similar to MUD or MOOS, Ink says they are different because "Whereas other games invite players to swing swords and slay dragons, Ink challenges players to communicate, cooperate, compete, and achieve through writing."

It looks very interesting, and I will likely visit them when they 'open' on July 1.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Not to be left out...

Microsoft has also entered the wiki waters. You can see their wiki here.

Looks like they want their user base to add to/help out with their documentation?

e-bay getting wikis.

Ebay is getting into blogs and wikis.

Not sure why they would want to, but there you have it.

The Farm

I went out to the farm again, yesterday. It was a lot of fun. The last time I went we were fixing an old mower (everything out there is circa 1917), and this week they had already cut the alfalfa. They had this ancient machine that was led by two draft horses. It scooped up the hay and then plopped it down onto a wagon. I, along with two other men, would then take the hay and stack it up on the wagon. It was quite difficult to keep your balance, all the while you are in close quarters with two other men who are swinging sharp pitch forks.

Once we had the wagon full, we used a single draft horse and a pulley system to haul loads of the hay up into the barn. It was a very interesting setup. I know Dr. Sidwell (the Center's director) was taking pictures of the process, and I'll try to track some of them down.

And then of course I also gave some pony rides, chopped some wood (I've got the blood blisters to prove it), and tried to keep the boys busy.

The last thing I did before I left our van, was take off my watch (I've got to be 'in character', and a digital watch doesn't work with overalls) and leave it in the car. All afternoon I didn't know what time it was. And that was just fine with me.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Consider the Following

I've heard of some strange pets, and once met a man who kept a pot-bellied pig as an indoor pet (he called him bacon, so the family wouldn't forget why they had him in the first place). But I had never heard of this.

I came across this article while doing a bit of research for my second book... And as usual, the event in chapter 10 actually happened... In fact, I'm trying to get with my friend so that I can see if I've missed any details.

You can't vandalize this wiki...

I've been working on a literature review of wikis in education, and so I've been kind of watching new developments in the news. I found this article interesting.

One of the problems (although it's a minor problem in an active wiki community) is vandalism. Somebody comes in and deletes text, adds inaccurate text, or swaps pictures. Easily undone, but it can still can be an annoyance.

But now the idea is that every change must be ratified by users. Depending on how they set it up, it could be nice. I don't think a minor edit should have to have as many ratifications as say, changing out all of the images, but it's still an interesting idea. Although you would need an active community to make this happen, and if you have an active community to begin with, vandalism is not really a problem.

Still, interesting idea.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I've finally arrived...

I work with a wonderful group of folks, both at COSL, and at FACT. They are a lot of fun. My co-workers here at FACT nominated me to be employee of the week. I got three balloons (my kids will love them), and a king size Hershey's bar (my wife will love that).

My grant runs out at the end of the year, but I hope that I will be working with all of these people for a long time.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Good Life

Last winter, my wife heard an announcement on the radio that the America West Heritage Center was looking for volunteers. These volunteers would dress up as 1917 folk, and hang out at the Center. The AWH Center is a 'living farm', which means they grow real crops, that they feed to real animals, that they then really kill, and serve up at their food fest.

I wasn't too enthused, when my wife told me that we were all signed up to volunteer, less enthused when I found out we had to 'dress up', and possibly even less enthused when I put on my overalls (I'm pretty sure the first time I've ever WORN overalls), but when I got to the farm, my opinion was dramatically and immediately reversed.

The farm is beautiful, located in an very scenic part of Cache Valley (you'd be hard pressed to find a part of Cache Valley that wasn't scenic. I spent the day chopping wood, fixing a mower, using cordless equipment (cordless in the sense that it's 1917 equipment), leading a pony around the yard, eating cornbread, soup, and cobbler, feeding the pigs, and there was nary a cell phone to be seen.

My kids were having fun. Running in the yard, feeding chickens, helping out with the laundry, and playing ball.

My wife had to drag me from the place. I asked when we were going back. She told me next Thursday which, in my opinion, isn't nearly soon enough.

So if you're in the area, drop on by. If you pick the right day, I'll be there. I'll be the guy grinning like an idiot, and looking for all the world like I'm having the time of my life.

Me, circa 1917

Me, circa 1917
Originally uploaded by firemeboy.

A cool mashup

Somebody came up with the idea to mashup google maps with the concept of a wiki. You can see the result here.

It's a great idea, but the implementation might need a few tweaks. You don't have the option (at least that I can find) of reverting back to previous versions. That is a must, in my opinion, to prevent vandalism.

In other wiki news, a very interesting experiment is going on in CA. Registered voters can participate in a virtual political boot camp. Participants "create a platform of issues they hope a real political party would adopt as its own." Come on, you've got to admit the concept is incredibly interesting... The only problem is that people would have to actually get involved. Which is a lot to ask of a democracy...

I can see special interest groups slathering over it now.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cross your fingers...

For those that may not know, the US Patent Office granted the sole rights on 'one-click shopping'. So if you've ever been annoyed that some sites don't simply keep track of your credit card number, it's not because they don't want to, or have the technical expertise, it's because they are not allowed. They would have to pay Amazon in order to have this functionality.

But this story is an interesting one. Some guy who was ticked off at, did a bit of research and found several similar patents that pre-date the Amazon patent. The US Patent Office has opened the question back up, and Amazon must now go and prove that they do in fact have the rights to keep others companies from storing your credit card number.

Personally I find the fact that you can patent something like that mind boggling. Let's hope that something good comes out of action being taken by congress, although if you are expecting politicians to make a good decision, well... I have this bridge for sale.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

MIT's Laptop

Price tag, $100.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A bit of light reading...

I've found there are two kinds of reading, and I enjoy both. One kind you have to rev up your brain. Whether it's a complicated journal article, or a biography or piece of non-fiction that challenges the way you think. You don't just read, you engulf, you surround, you engage.

The second kind of reading is leisurely and relaxed. The book kind of just flows over you. It's 'light reading'.

I've been doing a lot of the former reading, so over the weekend I treated myself to a bit of the latter reading. I read Arthur C. Clarke's Songs of Distant Earth, and almost completed James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small.

I always enjoy a good Clarke Novel because they aren't like your normal run of the mill Science Fiction. In other books you have your story line, your climax, and your resolution. In Clarke's books nothing actually ever happens (think Rendezvous with Rama). But when you're done, you feel like you've listened in on a few lectures in an introductory college physics course. I read about the space elevator, theoretical quantum engines, and interstellar space travel. Very entertaining.

And then of course reading James Herriot is almost like going on a vacation. I want to visit two places before I die, New Zealand, and England. New Zeland because I've heard from more than one person that it is paradise on earth, and England because of the way Herriot describes it in his books.

Anyway, I'll likely finish up Herriot tonight, and then it's back to every piece of peer reviewed literature on the topic of wikis I can find.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Utah Dodged a Bullet

That was close.

Utah had proposed three designs for it's commemorative quarter. All three can be seen here.

Usually when they have these kinds of contests, I don't really care what wins. I'm pretty laid back, and usually whatever makes it to the finals is pretty good. But when I saw these three designs, I couldn't help but really, really dislike two of them. The snowboarder design is nothing more than one big advertisement for the ski industry. Besides, the boarder doesn't look like he's catching air time, he looks more like he's just been hit by a steam roller. Are knees supposed to bend like that?

And the beehive, while very recognizable to folks here in Utah, is just going to be misunderstood by those 'abroad'. I can overhear the conversation in millions of homes across the country.

"Honey, why did those Utahns pick a cow pie to put on the back of their quarter?"

Luckily, where the first two failed miserably, the third one hit the nail, or rather the spike, right on the head. It's a nice design visually, it reminds people of our pioneer heritage, and best of all, promontory is in my backyard.

Anyway, the good governor has made the right decision. Hopefully he'll like how it feels, and decide to do it more often...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

18 years after the civil war.

Sometimes I feel old, but this woman was my age in 1911.

She was born 18 years after the civil war started.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bullies Update

I've gotten six chapters up so far. If the book ends up being the same length as Chickens, then I'm roughly a third of the way through, which feels about right. Please drop by to check out the progress.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Can't pass on this story...

With my particular brand of humor, I had to check this story out.

I've heard of fat-free, but never fart-free.

Think of all the funny experiences we would miss out on if everybody ate these beans.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Self Portrait

Originally uploaded by firemeboy.
So, this is me in Japan. Me in Japan looks the same as Me in Utah, except the background changes...

If you'd like to see the rest of my photos, click on the picture...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Redford and Stones

When I decided to enter graduate school, I had to take the Millers Analogy Test. The folks at USU told me I had to have my application in by that Friday, and I found out that I could take the test the next day. Rather than try to study for the test, and get myself worked up and worried, I simply walked in and took it cold. The first question was something like this:

Hat is to head, as glove is to _____. I smiled, marked hand, and thought I had it made.

By question four, the analogies looked more like this:

Pi is to Robert Redford, as kidney stones are to ______.

It was a grueling experience, but I made it into graduate school, only to find out I should have taken the GRE.

But, the important thing is that I learned what an analogy question is, so I'll pose one to you. Right now. For free.

Movies are to video games, as books are to ______.

Nope, it's not Robert Redford, nor is it kidney stones. In my opinion, you can complete the above question with wikis.

Think about it. Watching a Movie is a passive experience. If you don't like the fact that they are going to shoot Old Yeller, you're just out of luck (sorry, should have given you a spoiler warning). In the end, the dog is going to get it, no matter how hard you wish to the contrary.

If Old Yeller were a video game, you could pull out a shotgun and go after the wolf (the one that gave Old Yeller rabies to begin with). Or load up the dog into a helicopter and get the poor thing to a vet. Either way, you take the story into your own hands. You move from a passive role, to an active role.

Reading is the same way. You can stop reading, but other than that you have no say in what happens in a story. When you read a book it is a passive experience. When you watch a movie it is a passive experience. Video games and wikis are both active. You are not watching to see what happens next, rather you grab hold of a keyboard, and make what happens next. I can't help but think your brain is more active when it's watching a video game (because you must respond). And I can't help but think when you're reading, and you have the power to edit, you brain will be more active because you can be more active.

I'm not saying movies and reading are bad. Only that they have different potentials for instruction than do active/participatory games, and active/participatory reading.

I'm working on a lit review and I'm surprised how little wikis have been used and studied in education and instruction. I'm excited to see how educational innovators use this technology in the next few years. I think it will prove to be effective.

Monday, April 03, 2006


For those keeping score at home, last year Nature did a comparison study of wikipedia, and Encyclopedia Britannica.

Well, as you can imagine, the EB folks weren't too happy about that, so they launched an attack that argued Nature's methods were flawed.

Now Nature has responded by issuing it's own statement, and standing by their story.

Personally I find the treatment and information handed out over at uncyclopedia more informative. Especially their work on World War I and II.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Give away the product...

Make money some other way.

I'm often trying to convince faculty that opening up their course is a good thing. I even tried to convince my publisher (I love my publisher) to let me license my book under Creative Commons, effectively 'giving it away'. Why? What good can possibly come from giving away your product?

Well, you can always make money some other way. There is an interesting article over on CNN that talks about an airline that is planning on making money by letting people fly for free.

In the information age we shouldn't try to round up, capture, monopolize, and control information. We should set it free, and then find new ways to make money. There are ways to do it. It might be hard. But giving folks access to information is always a good thing.

Chapter Three

Chapter 3 is posted to the wiki. It's still not quite there, but it's getting much closer. Any feedback would be appreciated.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

First Snow

First Snow
Originally uploaded by firemeboy.
I took this picture last fall. It was the 'first snow'. I'm waiting for the last snow while dreaming of Arizona.

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Location

I've found a new location for my next writing project. I've got a site where there aren't any of the adds, and I have a bit more control over the site.

If you would like to play along with my second book, Bullies Don't Have Armpits (like to be changed to Bullies in the Headlights), then you can go here.

If you don't want to actually participate in the writing, that is ok, but please feel free to leave comments about the chapters. I've got two up so far, and hope to have the third up soon.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

No more coat

So if there is one thing that my Ph. D. program has taught me it's the mind boggling confusion of statistics. First and foremost is the whole correlation and causation idea. Just because two things happen together, doesn't mean that one thing causes the other.

So I have a theory. Every time it's cold, people put on their coats. You might say that the cold weather causes people to put on their coats. But I don't buy that. I think that putting on the coats causes the cold weather. Forget that silly theory about the sun hitting the earth directly or indirectly; that's just plain rubbish. The snow gods see everybody in their coats, so they throw snow at us.

So, I've had enough of winter and I'm in open rebellion. I put the coat away, and I'm going to single handedly bring in spring. Is anybody with me? If so, then pack that coat away, pull out the short sleeve shirts, and let's usher in some spring.

Mark my words. Within a month of me putting away my coat, we WILL be having warmer weather.

No need to thank me.

Note to skiers, if you want the ski season to last, by all means, take your coat up the canyon, and put it on up there. Snow in the mountains is fine, as long as it doesn't reach the valley.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Go Podcasters...

More podcasts than radio stations.

I don't even listen to the radio anymore. Unless I've forgotten my mp3 player.

More on Collaborative Writing

I was talking to my sister-in-law/editor, and she brought up some good questions about how a group might write collaboratively online in a wiki. It made me think more about how such a group might be organized.

In my mind, there would be several layers of participants. At the top, you would have one lead author. I've talked about this role before. One step 'below' the author you would have a group of folks whose input is trusted. They are either writers who can write close to the voice of the author, or editors who can clean up grammatical problems. I would think that there would be less than 10, probably more like 5-6 of these authors. Any more and it will be too hard to keep up with all of the changes. This group has full editing rights. They can go in and make changes to the text. Ultimately the author decides what stays and goes, but this group will be making contributions right within the text. Some of the writers may even take over a character, writing most of the 'voice' for that person.

Finally, below this group is a larger group of readers. These people would not have access to edit the text, rather they will spend their time reading sections and giving feedback. It wouldn't be the 'oh, that's a great chapter' kind of feedback. They would highlight sentences or paragraphs that were rough. Maybe they didn't understand this dialog, or they felt something was too obscure or obvious, or maybe they feel a particular character wouldn't have made that choice. The lead author and the secondary authors would decide if they needed to alter the text based on the feedback. It may be that the readers, and even the secondary authors feel something is amiss, but ultimately the lead author must make the decision about where and how the story unfolds.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I was talking to my good friend Shelleylyn the other day and she made an interesting comment. She said that whenever people told her what kind of music they hated, it was almost alway rap or country. I realized that this indeed is the case. Nobody ever says they hate ska. So I've decided that whenever anybody asks me what kind of music I listen to I'm going to reply with the following. "I like pretty much anything. Well, except for the mid-period baroque stuff, that music drives me crazy."

New Course...

We just published a new course at USU OCW. It's a course that I actually took at the university last fall. It was a very enjoyable course, and when we were done we had not only learned all there was about games and learning, but we had created our own game. The course, along with a free download of the game, can be found here.

Bonus points to anybody who can find my epitaph.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Google and Writley

Om Malik's blog is reporting that Google has purchased writley, a nice web app I came across several months ago. It's basiclly a simple word processor, but it's done online, and you can collaborate with anybody else. Similar to a wiki, but with different functionality. A similar product, writeboard, is even more basic, can be found over at 37signals.

Interesting write up and speculation in the article as well...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

If technology causes change, abandon it!

I am not sure if I should grab my belly and laugh, or slap my forehead and groan, at this article in the Deseret News.

From the article:

"The students thought they were getting everything because I was putting PowerPoint notes online, but they were missing all the discussion that was happening in the classroom," Wight said. "They were unwittingly fooled into thinking they could get by in the class without ever coming to the classroom."

So why throw away a technology just because it looks like adapting that technology may change the way we do things? I agree with the instructor, a student is probably not going to get what they need from a few slides. But why take away that avenue of instruction because some students will stay home? Chances are the students will quickly realize that notes aren't enough, and come back to class. Learning comes from interaction. But it seems silly to limit the ways students can access information, just because some students skip class.

"Now, Wight refuses to put his class notes online, revoking the luxury that had become just one more excuse for absenteeism."

Blazing Fast Computer

Japan has a new fastest computer. It does 59 trillion calculations per second. Which means you can do your taxes in about, oh... 8 seconds.

But you'll still do them wrong.

And you'll still be audited.

And you'll still owe money.

Career Fair

So I walked through my campus's career fair today. I wanted to see what my options are just in case I fail my comps. I had about 7 conversations that went like this.

Them: So, what is your major?

Me: Instructional Technology.

Them: Oh, we don't hire those, but I've seen several construction companies who are here...

Me: No, sorry. Not constructional technology, in-. INstructional technology.

Them: Oh, your in structural technology. We don't hire those either, but if that is the same as structural engineering, I've seen several...

Me: How about I take a [mini snickers, pen, squeezy foam ball] and just slowly back away?

Them: Yeah, that would probably be best.

Monday, February 27, 2006

For those interested...

I contacted the instructor who sent his English students to the fiction remix wiki, and he said these were the instructions he gave to his students.

My Honors English class (ninth graders) has a weekly discussion board assignment. Many of them are a couple weeks behind, so there may be activity on the board for a while yet, but I think about half of them have given it a shot...some more successfully than others. Here are the instructions they revceived from me:

1) Go to this web site and read the story called "To Build a Fire" by Jack London:

2) After reading the original story in its entirety, you will have noticed that, while it is a great story, the language is rather dated. Some of the words are no longer in use, and sometimes it just doesn't sound modern. (That's because it isn't.) Your task for this week will be to revise one paragraph of the story to make it more accessible to modern readers. In other words, you will "translate" one paragraph of the story into regular, modern language. The way you will do this is by going to the web site that you will find at the bottom of these instructions.

3) When you get to the web site, the paragraphs at the top are the ones that have already been revised. Read through what has already been done and select the next available paragraph in the story. (It will be below the "Contents" links, so you'll need to scroll down.) Following the example of the paragraphs that are already done, "translate" your paragraph into something that would be easier for a modern reader to understand by clicking the "edit" link next to the paragraph. When you finish, hit "Save passage" and your revised paragraph will appear with the others. When we are done, we will have a completely revised version of the story.

4) You may look at the new version compared to the old version by clicking the "history" tab and then selecting "Compare selected versions."

5) When you finish, return here [to the discussion board] and post a report of which paragraph you revised and what you did to make it easier for modern readers. Also note any other changes you made or problems you had with the process of using the web site.

Here's where you can find the original version of the story:

Here's where you go to revise a paragraph of it:

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The next step

OpenCourseWare is an important step in getting information to those that need it, but I think just as important, and perhaps the 'next step' is an alternative accrediation system. For many, just getting the information is enough, but for others, there needs to be some easy way to show that they have a good understanding of topic X. It looks like this idea of an alternative accreditation is being worked on, or at least talked about...

I think OCW and something along the lines of an ARL would be a nice one-two punch.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fiction Remix

It was about a week ago I put up a few of my short stories, and one of Jack London's, on a wiki. The Jack London story is getting quite a bit of attention. It appears that an English teacher has assigned his class to go in and mess around a bit. I find the changes they are making very interesting, and can't help but wonder if the student's aren't getting more out of London's story because they are helping to remix it. They are reproducing it, not just consuming it.


Great Story.

"The episode illustrated the profound impact of the Internet on political discourse in China..."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's probably the fact that I read too many science fiction books as a teen, but the idea of a space elevator really intrigues me. It's probably far fetched, and it may never happen, but then again it just might. Either way, it looks like we're one small step closer.

Friday, February 10, 2006

What is your price?

Yahoo is now offering rewards to use their search engine. The list of possible incentives looked pretty good, but the Netflix one especially caught my eye. I would be tempted to switch (or at least search on yahoo first) if I got a 7 dollar discount on netflix.

I wonder if google will respond with similar incentives.

What is the world coming to when companies pay you to use their free service? I think I could like it...

What do you get...

Have you ever wondered what you get when you cross a physics engine, a Rube Goldberg device, and a whole lot of free time?

Wonder no more.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fiction Mashup

I posted a link to my wiki site to several discussion boards, and one suggestion was in addition to a remix, keeping in the spirit of things of audio sampling, was to do a fiction mashup. Take two pieces of fiction and mash them together. I think the idea is great. Anybody have two stories they'd like to see colliding?

More FictionRemix

So already I had an experience that shows me there may be something to writing fiction in a collaborative environment.

I posted a few stories on my wiki the other day, and then announced the fact on a few discussion boards I frequent. T. Lynn Adams, a fellow author hopped over to the site and read one of my stories. The story is an event that takes place in a children's Sunday school class. Now I sat through years and years of this kind of class when I was younger, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would happen in the story. But I haven't really been in a class like this on a regular basis for 15 years. T. Lynn Adams, on the other hand, said she has “sat through MANY a primary singing time”. She made a suggestion, based on her experience, that makes the story more realistic, and more humorous. Her suggestion adds an aspect of the story I had completely missed.

The crux of the matter is that the story will now (in my opinion) be a better story because somebody else lent their expertise.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Well, I've finally put up a wiki site where people can remix fiction. I found a free site that uses media wiki, the same code that wikipedia uses. Anyway, I've only put up three things, a short story in the public domain, and then two very short excerpts from my next book (the only two things I've written from it). If anybody would like to tinker around with them, they can do so here.

Also, as of now, this is wide open. So if you your own work, or you have a favorite story in the public domain, or you'd like to see Shakespeare's As You Like It remixed with a hip-hop feel, by all means, add whatever you would like to the front page.

Monday, February 06, 2006


There has to be an analogy to OER here somewhere...

Friday, February 03, 2006


I'm a writer, in the sense that I write. I've often heard the word 'voice' thrown around. When you write you want to create a good voice.

I'm a gamer, in the sense that I play games. I've never heard the word 'voice' thrown around. Until now.

Great article.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


When I listen to both sides of an argument, and don't know which opinion I should adhere to, I often ask myself the liberty question. Does this argument or opinion give more liberty to an individual, or less? Liberty is a long topic for another day, but I can think of very few, if any, instances where more personal liberty is a bad thing. Sure, when you give people liberty, things get messy, but in the long run, it's all for the better.

Which is why I think it's too bad that Google is censoring their search results in China. Censoring withholds information, which in turn limits liberty. The end result being that an individual ends up making a decision based on limited or incomplete information.

This image shows the difference between a full Google search, and a censored Google search.


I had to blog this article becuase it's about Firefly, the best Sci-Fi/Western television series since... Well, has there even been another Sci-Fi/Western Television series? And not only it is about Firefly, but they use the phrase 'highly cunning'. Can't pass up such a one-two punch.

Anyway, it appears that with the success of iPod video, Firefly might be brought back to life. The idea is "to buy up the franchise from Fox [and] sell the show on a direct pay-per-view model. The consumer would view it on her or his computer, on his or her iPod, and on her and his on direct-to-DVD sent to his or her house or on demand through her or his cable or satellite operator."

The guy proposing the idea admits it's a long shot, "but if it does work then it could mean the end of networks killing off really popular shows as they might be saved by different online distribution channels."

Monday, January 30, 2006


Tens, or maybe hundreds of thousands of years ago, man figured something out. He realized that if you took a buddy with you hunting, your odds of success were greatly increased. If you were poking what you hoped was your next meal with a sharp stick, and your future meal happened to knock the stick out of your hands and jump on top of you, it was nice to have a buddy to poke HIS sharp stick at your meal, in hopes that you might be able to escape.

Learning is the same way, although there are no sharp sticks, and less carnage (usually).

I came across a very interesting looking course over at MIT OCW. It's called cognitive robotics. I'm interested in robotics, I'm interested in cognition, so the topic appeals to me.

So, why am I blogging and not teaching myself the finer points of cognitive robotics? Well, because I have a million other things to do, but also because I don't have anybody to 'go with me'. I need a buddy, preferable several of them. Sure, it's nice to have access to a content expert, but with MIT OCW, you don't get that, and besides, there is a magical formula that will tell you a magic number (I've discovered neither the formula, nor the number), in which you would rather have X number of interested novices, instead of one expert. I'm sure I could learn a lot about Napoleonic Warfare from Bernard Cornwell, but give me 25 interested amateur historians, and I bet I learn more. Maybe it's because then learning is more a journey of discovery instead of a passive data transfer.

The point of this whole post is that I was in a meeting where we talked what kind of interaction is needed to supplement the 'content' on OCW sites. I'm sure there are no quick answers, but it seems to me that what might be useful is something that facilitates this concept of pairing folks with similar interests so that can go out and tackle the topic together. But this is bigger than any OCW. If I choose to tackle cognitive robotics, I'm not going to tie myself only to MIC OCW, I'm going to utilize the entire internet. So it seems that learners need a central gathering place, a place where folks interested in learning can find others with similar interests and then go out and tackle the topic together.

The benefit of a central gathering place is that if a person goes to MIT's site to discuss cognitive robotics they are tied to only those who visit that site. They don't get interaction from folks in other OCW environments, or just other learning environments. And if you Google cognitive robotics, you will find places with good content, but no discussion, or sites are only interested in selling you things, or experts talking about things that are incomprehensible to novices, or other places that aren't specifically related to the 'learning'.

It seems then, what is needed is a place where learners can gather, find, tag, and post links related to their topic of interest, and then begin to help each other learn the topic through discussion and research.

So, somebody out there reading this blog, go ahead and whip up that site, and then let me know about it. I'll start the cognitive robotics thread.

Monday, January 23, 2006


This site shows the locations of the highest points in each state. A few things I found interesting:

Utah Clocks in at about 13,500 (Kings Peak). The highest point in Hawaii? Mauna Kea - 13,796 feet.

Florida's highest point is all of 345 feet. I guess there aren't many 'homes with a view' in Florida.

In Colorado we have the highest point at over 14,000 feet. And in neighboring Nebraska? Not even 5,000 feet.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Who says you need to 'instruct'?

This is a great read. It is the transcript of a guy teaching how the binary system works to third graders. He doesn't really tell them anything, he just asks questions. Using the socratic method, the kids come to understand how the binary system works.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Tis the Season

Once again I'm finding myself wondering where all of my tax documentations are. I've got money in three banks, I've worked for four different places, lived in two houses, donated money to several charities... And now I'm supposed to collect it all, read the 54,000 pages of tax code documentation, all to figure out how much money I get taken away from me.

With that in mind, I found this this article interesting.

This has me excited.

I've looked, but never found anybody talking about the idea of using a wiki as a collaborative writing tool. I never really thought nobody was doing it, I just couldn't find any evidence. But now, thanks to an e-mail from Jester Mike, I have found that people indeed are talking about it.

There is a nice article over here (free registration required) that talks about students and teachers using wikis for collaborative writing, as well as a few places you can set up a wiki for free.

And then there is this site, it's similar to wikipedia, but the topics are more 'for fun'. It's not trying to be a serious encyclopedia. But from what I can see, no true 'composition' is taking place. It is more factual reporting and what not.

There is also wikispaces and PBwiki, but I haven't got around to looking into them.

Regardless, I think there is some interesting potential here. I may post a story and see what happens.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I wrote to a friend who teaches English at a middle school. I told him about my idea. It was a good reality check, and his comments made me think (which is what I was hoping for). He said, among other things:

"I think the Wiki method of composition is excellent in theory. I mean the idea is exactly what teachers are trying for when they have small groups of kids sit in a circle and read their stories to the group. The group is supposed to give suggestions, help the writer do some meaningful revision, etc. The problem that I have always encountered at the junior high and high school levels is that in order for this process to work, all the interested parties have to care enough to spend time and effort on some other kid's work...and most teenagers simply don't. They give lots of superficial praise and very few meaningful criticisms or suggestions. It's question of motivation...[snip]

Many people who are not teachers believe that you can just assign the students to do something and they will fall in line, but you can't assign a kid to care."

He then went on to say several other things, many of them positive about the idea. But he works in a place where the rubber meets the road, and he brings up an excellent point.

I have found hours of insight, entertainment, and reflection from frequenting a discussion board I came across several years ago. My first thought was that a discussion board would provide an excellent educational resource in an online class. But when I put one in my class, I found the only way students would post is if I made it mandatory. I had to threaten them with a lower grade to get any 'participation'.

The difference between the two discussion boards is that in one people are there because they care, and in the other one there is no vested interest.

So, what is the point to all of this? Basically I think that collaborative writing would produce interesting fiction, a person who writes in such an environment would become a better writer, and a wiki would facilitate collaborative fiction in a very slick way. But you won't have much success by using this method in a junior high school, a high school, and even most college courses. You WOULD have success by creating a place where folks who care about such things, could come and hang out.

After all, it seems to work out just fine in the arena of fan fiction.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Mama was right...

All those piano lessons did pay off. It's probably not stellar, but I can type about 90 words per minute. And that's with cold hands, and a tendency to choke.