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.