Thursday, December 27, 2007

Passed...

A few whiles ago I wrote a post about some legislation making its way through the congress. The basic idea is that the law would direct "the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide the public with open online access to findings from its funded research. That would make it so that those who recieved money from the government for resarch, must make those findings 'open' 12 months after they are published.

Well, I know many of you have been holding your breath. Many of you have stayed up late at nights, wondering if this legislation has passed. Or if it will pass. Or if it passed already.

Well, wonder no longer. Bush has signed it into law.

Cue the celebrating...

The Wii

I've had a Wii since September. It's been hiding in our closet and I've been counting the days until I can give it to the boys. They hadn't asked for one, or if they did, it was half hearted. I wondered if they no longer wanted one, or maybe didn't think it was possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

You Knol What I Mean?

Google is in the early testing stages of a new project that may aim to replace, or at least compete, with wikipedia. They've created a tool called 'knol', which stands for unit of knowledge. The idea is that a person can create a page about a certain topic. Others can add to or edit the page. The author may choose to place Google ads on the page.

Sound a bit like Wikipedia? There are a few key differences. First, a knol will have information about the author. Wikipedia allows complete and total anonymity.

Second, although others can add to or take away from the article, ultimately the author of the piece decides what stays and what goes. One person has control over the article. These two facts take away some of the complaints often raised about Wikipedia. That 'experts' aren't writing the the articles, and there is no oversight.

The third difference is that Wikipedia has never placed ads on their site. Users contribute and Wikipedia is a non-profit organization.

It's clear why Google would love to see the knol idea take off. Do a search for a noun on Google, any noun. Look at the first five listings. Chances are, Wikipedia is one of those links. I picked cat and Wikipedia was second. Just for fun, you should do a search for exploding coconuts, and click the I'm feeling lucky button.

Anyway, there are all of these people trying to find out about something, and they are being directed to wikipedia where they are not being hit over the heads with ads. That's a crying shame! One that Google hopes to fix in the near future.

Taking Lawrence to Task

So I've veered into the dangerous realm of politics before on this blog, and now I'm veering into the dangerous world of religion and politics.

I'm a Mormon. My first choice for president is not Mitt Romney (go Ron Paul), but I can't help to be a little offended when someone attacks the Mormon religion simply for political reasons. Lawrence O'Donnell went on a tirade during the most recent McLaughlin Group, in what can only be described as simple religious bigotry. You can see his little speech here.



I won't ask the obvious question like what if he had said this about Jews, or about Catholics. Instead, I can't help but point you to this interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio program. Mr. Hewitt asks Lawrence exactly the same question I would have asked him, had he made those same comments about any religion.

I thought about quoting some of Mr. Hewitts post here, but there is just so much good stuff, you really should read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

OLPC

If you know what OLPC stands for, then you're cool. If not, you're still cool, just not as cool. However, do not fear. Read on and you very soon will increase your coolness 10 fold.

OLPC stands for One Laptop Per Child. The idea is we need to get laptops, and more importantly, information and access to the internet, to those that don't have it. Originally the cost was set at $100, but due to many countries backing out of their original orders, the cost has gone up to $188, still a pretty good deal.

Of course no good thing can go without controversy. Originally Intel and Microsoft had no interest in the project. No biggie, OLPC went with AMD and Linux. But now MS and Intel see OLPC as a direct competitor. Think of it, millions of kids growing up without the joy of using Windows. Millions of kids who will never get to use that friendly paper clip to help them navigate a Word document. The horror! The kids might just discover that there are plenty of open source applications and operating systems that do just as good a job as their paid for counterparts (think Open Office vs. MS Office).

Anyway, I just came across this review of the OX computer. From the article:

" I had returned from Nigeria not entirely convinced that the XO laptop was quite as wonderful an educational tool as its creators claimed.

I felt that a lot of effort would be needed by hard-pressed teachers before it became more than just a distracting toy for the children to mess around with in class.

But Rufus has changed my mind.

With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time.

The One Laptop Per Child project is struggling to convince developing countries providing computers for children is as important as giving them basic facilities like water or electricity.

Unusually, Rufus does not have an opinion about that controversy, but he does have a verdict on the laptop. "It's great," he says. "

Currently, OLPC has a deal where you 'give one, get one'. You get a laptop, and a second laptop is sent to a school or a child that could benefit from it. If you want to be the coolest person on the block, plunk down a few hundred, get a really cool laptop, and spread the joy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I still don't agree with it, but I get it...

There are a lot of people who rail against video games. I am not one of those people. I think they are fun, can help teach kids a lot of things, and contrary to popular belief, they can help a person connect with other people, overcome fears, and even learn valuable life skills.

That being said, I don't agree when a child is given a gameboy or some other hand held video device, and that is all they do, all day long. Too many times I see kids walking in the store, riding in the car, siting at a dinner table with their nose buried in a game.

I say I don't agree with it, but I can now say I understand why some parents allow their kids to do it. I used to think their parents just didn't care. They were apathetic. It's not hard to get kids to stop. You put your parental foot down, take away the device, end of story.

But now I understand that there is a reason parents let their children play these games. We recently went on a trip to Mexico. We spent about 38 hours in the car. Let me do the math for you. Two adults + 5 boys under the age of 9 = CHAOS.

But when we gave the oldest the gameboy, something happened. He didn't complain. He didn't whine. He didn't even talk, he just sat there. And so did the brother who was sitting next to him. And when we asked him to do something, he obeyed. He wanted to do whatever we asked so he could keep playing. He was suddenly the boy we have been trying to raise. He is polite, he isn't fighting, he isn't screaming, he isn't whining, and he obeys us. Sure, his brain is in another place entirely, and he moves a little slow when he is carrying something to the van while playing the with his chin, but he's obeying. It's nice.

But now that we are home, we're putting the limits back on. One hour on Saturday, 1/2 hour on Monday. It's harder, but ultimately I think it's better. The idea is that my kids can be polite, friendly and obedient even if they don't have a carrot in front of them.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Does the crowd always know?

I don't know. But there is a good chance all of you do.

I have been messing around on Facebook lately. One of their diversions is the 'never-ending movie quiz'. There are hundreds, if not thousands of questions, and you just keep answering them. I've answered 201 (hey, it's Thanksgiving weekend), and I've noticed something interesting. After you answer the question, it shows you the correct answer, and the percentages of where people voted. Every time, without fail, the crowd picks the right answer. The lowest I've ever seen are in the 60s, with the other 40 percent spreading across the other three answers.

In others words, the wisdom of the many seems to be higher than the wisdom of the one (or few).

So, ignore what your mom said. If everybody else is doing it, join right in!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Best Turkey...

No, I'm not talking about presidential candidates. I'm talking about the real deal. The flightless bird that was almost our country's national bird.

Every year I prepare our turkey the way my parents did while I was growing up. And every year I tell myself I'm never going to do it again. Because it's a great deal of work. Then I eat it on Thanksgiving afternoon, and I admit that I can never go back to the old way.

Here is what you do, generally speaking.

First you thaw the turkey in cold water. You have to time it just right. To long and you either have a turkey you have to throw out, or you have salmonella. To short and you have freezing hands.

Next you remove the legs and the wings. It's a little gross, because you basically have to rip the bones out of their sockets, and then cut them away. Then you cut the breast meat away from the bone. When you're done you have a de-boned turkey. The skin in on the bottom, all the raw meat is sitting on top.

Then you cut the bones out of the thighs, and place both of these next to the main pile of meat.

Now you spice it all with season salt, garlic salt, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Then you take the thighs and place them, skin up, on top of the other raw meat.

Now comes the fun part. You sew the whole thing back together. You plug up any holes, You sew the thighs to the main part, and just before you seal her up, you throw in an entire cube of butter. By the time you're done you look like you have some kind of Frankenstein's monster, minus...well, everything. It's just a blob of turkey skin filled with meat.

Now you tie this up, put some onions on the bottom of a turkey bag, place the turkey in the bag, put in a quart and a half of water, more spices, and cook for 6 hours at about 325.

The end result is the moistest turkey you'll ever eat. The butter melts inside of the turkey, the spices run all over the place, when it comes out of the oven, you cut the thread, throw out the skin, and eat until you can't eat no more.

Anyway, I've got the turkey blob in the fridge now. It was a lot of work, but I can already taste it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I was just there...

While in England, we stopped by Bletchley park to see, among other things, one of the first modern digital computers, the Colossus. I snagged a picture of it.


So imagine my surprise when I see a bit in the news this morning about this very computer. It's up and running again, doing what it was originally built for, cracking German codes. Here is a picture from the article:


See that? See the similarities? I was standing right there! :)

Anyway, the work they did at Bletchley park was both important and cool. You can read more about it here and here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Interesting Find...

I came across this today, a site that allows people to post screenplays, novels, short films, and short stories. The idea is that you get "feedback, exposure, and opportunity".

I think I'm going to look through what I have and submit something...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It only makes sense...

Scientists do research. Who funds them? The government. Who funds the government? You and me.

When scientists publish the results of their findings (the findings we paid for) in journals, those journals must be bought. In a sense, we are paying for the information twice. If you or I want access to that information we have to shell out the cost of the journal. How much? Not $12 or 24 a year. More likely you're going to pay in the thousands.

So we pay the scientists to do the research, they come up with the results, and then publishers step in, take control of the information, and we have to pay for it a second time.

Sounds a bit silly? Well, there is a bill making it's way through congress that might bring an end to this practice. If the bill passes, "US investigators funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may soon be compelled to publish only in journals that make their research papers freely available within one year of publication."

Makes sense to me. It's only a start, but a good one. However, it makes so much sense it might be a problem. Common sense is rare export from Washington. Bush has already promised to veto the bill, should it pass.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Radiohead Experiment

I have argued in the past that current models used in the the publishing and music industry are out of date. Laws, contracts and the 'way things work' favor publishers and recording industries at the expense of artists and authors--to an incredible degree.

So I watched with interest when Radiohead announced that they would release their latest album without a label. They gave it away on the internet, and asked fans to 'pay what you want'. The results?

The bad news is that 60 percent of those who downloaded the music paid nothing. The forty that did pay averaged about $6, less than what they would pay for a CD in a store, or on iTunes.

The good news? The band got to keep all of that money. It's estimated they made between 6-10 million dollars on that one album.

However, before we all rush out and put our next book or album on the internet, we have to remember another side of the model that this event does not take into affect. From comscore:

""While the band, its fans and artists alike are celebrating what looks like a success for Radiohead's bold move in releasing their new album using the ‘pay what you'd like’ model, I think everybody has overlooked one very important aspect of this, and it doesn't bode well for the future of the music industry,” says Michael Laskow, CEO of TAXI, the world's leading independent A&R (Artist and Repertoire) company. “Radiohead has been bankrolled by their former label for the last 15 years. They've built a fan base in the millions with their label, and now they're able to cash in on that fan base with none of the income or profit going to the label this time around. That's great for the band and for fans who paid less than they would under the old school model. But at some point in the not too distant future, the music industry will run out of artists who have had major label support in helping them build a huge fan base. The question is: how will new artists be able to use this model in the future if they haven't built a fan base in the millions in the years leading up to the release of their album under the pay what you'd like model?"

The flip side of that, of course, is bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Ok Go!, bands that found popularity first on the internet, and then through traditional means.

It would be naive to think that since it worked for Radiohead, it will work for everybody else. But I do hope that this will be a wakeup call to other bands, artists, and authors. We don't need the labels and publishers. There are other methods with new technology. Certainly, there are hurdles and problems to be worked out, but let's explore alternative models, and see what we can find.

Monday, November 05, 2007

What!?!

I was in Wal-Mart yesterday filling a prescription for my sick infant. I noticed a sign that I assumed was a joke. Then I saw similar sign today, and discovered that in fact it is no joke. It's a Utah Law. Has been since 1935, apparently.

To what am I referring?

Apparently you can not purchase alcohol on election day. It's forbidden. No drinks for you!

I guess I can see the rational. I mean we have important issues on the line, right? Who will lead us? Which propositions will pass? We can't have people making these kind of decisions when they're all liquored up, right?

On the other hand, is there more successful in driving a person to drink than politics? I have never tasted spirits in all of my life, but this mess over school vouchers has driven me closer to drink than any other issue. If I hear one more story about sign stealing, or the NEA, or the woes of public schools, I swear I'm going to drive to the nearest store and buy whatever makes the voices stop.

So, if you're planning on picking up a six pack, better do it today. Tomorrow you're out of luck.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Weak Dollar

Well, I’ve experienced the effects of the ‘weak dollar' first hand over in Merry England.

If my memory serves me correctly, the dollar to pound conversion rate used to be around $1.30 to $1.50 per pound. That means if you by a bottle of pop for 50p, you’re really paying roughly $.75. On this recent trip to England, the dollar stood at roughly $2 per pound. Now that same 50p bottle of pop costs me $1.

This devaluing of American currency has a couple of effects. First, I found myself not wanting to buy as much as I might have, had the conversion rate been better. They wanted 6 pounds ($12) to get into Stonehenge. Five pounds ($10) to get into Kenilworth, and 2 pounds ($4) for a bag of chocolate (which I actually bought gladly, since American chocolate is really just brown painted wax). The end result is that everything was quite expensive.

In other words, I’d rather spend my money in the USA where I can get more bang for my buck. So the upside to a weak dollar is that this desire to buy in America isn’t just limited to me and my fellow Americans. All of the products we make are suddenly cheaper everywhere in the world because you can get more dollars for your yen, your euro, and your pound. US manufacturers probably don’t mind the weak dollar.

The people who do mind it are people who make things in other countries, and import them. They have to pay more for the same goods. Products outside of America now cost more. Electronics, oil, anything we import is going up in price.

So, if you regularly buy American, or export things to other countries, then things are looking up. If you like your Japanese electronics, or are importing, then get ready to shell out a bit more this Christmas.

Wow, my blog has turned to economics lessons. We can only go up from here...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We back row folks finally have an excuse...

I've always preferred the back row. Maybe it's a leftover primitive defensive reaction, to keep potential threats in front of me. Maybe it's because I'm shy, and don't want people looking at the back of my head.

I've often been to meetings and taken a seat near the back, only to have the speaker demand that everybody move to the front. It drives me nuts. I sat back here because I wanted to. No, I don't want to move forward, I'm afraid of getting hit with your spittle if I sit too close.

But now those of us who prefer the back, and are geeks, have an excuse. I'm in a meeting and the only plugs are at the back of thee room. If I'm asked to move forward, I can put a pained look on my face, as if my one and only desire is to move forward. But then I gesture toward my laptop cord plugged into the floor. Alas, I'm tied to my spot. Here, in the back. Where nobody can sneak up and club me with a rock.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Whitneys

I don't remember if I've blogged about the Whitney Awards yet. If you haven't heard about them, you can go to their site at http://www.whitneyawards.com. You can read the rules, but the Whitney awards are basically trying to become THE award to get in the LDS publishing world. I think they've got a good shot, since Robison Wells is at the helm. Oh, and because they just announced a cash award for the winers. From their press release:

"WHITNEY AWARDS COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES LARGE CASH AWARDS

"The Whitney Awards Committee announced today that they will be
offering seven large cash awards to be presented at the upcoming
Whitney Awards banquet in March 2008. These cash prizes are due to
the generosity of the Whitney Awards' marquis sponsor,
ExclusivelyLDS.com.

"Founded earlier this year, the Whitney Awards program is a non-profit
organization dedicated to rewarding excellence among LDS authors.
With the new sponsorship of ExclusivelyLDS.com, winning authors will
receive up to $1000 along with their trophy.

"The Whitneys offer a total of seven awards. The five genre awards
(Best Romance/Women's Fiction, Best Mystery/Suspense, Best
YA/Children's, Best Speculative Fiction, Best Historical) will each
be accompanied by a $500 cash prize. The two overall winners, Best
Novel by a New Author and Best Novel of the Year, will each receive
$1000.

""We're very excited about the sponsorship with ExclusivelyLDS.com,"
Robison Wells, president of the Whitney Awards Committee,
explains. "There is enormous talent among LDS authors, and every
year seems to produce better and better novels. This is an exciting
time to be part of the LDS fiction industry. Our hope is that these
awards will raise awareness about the high quality fiction available
from LDS authors, and to draw in new readers.""

Now, you may think that I'm posting this in hopes that you might go over and nominate my book. That's not the case at all, although I do have an ulterior motive. I happen to know quite a few of the authors that have a good shot at winning this thing, and if they do, I'm planning to hit them up for some cash.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

David vs. Googliath

I congratulate those of you who read that horrible pun in the title, but still decided to read the article. That pun was just awful.

My brother sent me an article from the New York Times that talks about Google's work in scanning books and making them available to search. I've long been a fan of Google's work, even after publishers tried to bring a halt to the work by America's favorite pastime, litigation. However, the NYT puts a different spin on things.

When Google scans this material, they make it available to anybody who uses their search engines, but ONLY people using their search engines. From the article:

"Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form."

So even though something is in the public domain, you can only find it through Google's engine. It is not clear whether or not the library can allow somebody else to scan in the work, and then make it available.

So, we have the king of the search engines, and some might argue the king of the internet, hoarding information. As an information liberator, I find that highly offensive. :)

Enter David. From the article:

"The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available...[The Open Content Alliance] is making the material available to any search service."

At the end of the day, I want to see content in the hands of those who can benefit from it. I don't want to see the day when you have to do a search in 6 different search engines because they all have information the other one doesn't.

Kudos to the Open Content Alliance for making content open to all.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Great Friend - Great Site

I get to meet and work with a lot of cool people at my job (in real life, their faces aren't that dark). They do cool stuff at work, and then go home and do cool stuff there too.

One person I have had the great pleasure to work with is Lady Corrine of England. Lady Corrine is a graphic designer, and a dang good one. All of COSL's stuff is done by her. Half of the shirts in my closet are Lady Corrine originals, which reminds me, I need to have her autograph one of them.

Anyway, Lady Corrine has been in England, and has been working on a breast cancer awareness site. It came as no surprise to me that the site is well designed, very informative, and just plain cool to boot.

I highly recommend checking out Lemonland. And if you happen to run into The Mayor while you're there, ask her if there is any money in the banana stand.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Preparing for Halloween

My number two son is very creative when it comes to Halloween costumes. He makes up his mind early, decides how to do it, and then does it. This is the son who two years ago decided he wanted to go as a mountain. He then convinced his brother to go as a mountain too, so they could be the Wasatch Range.

This year, for whatever reason, he picked his costume early. He found a big cardboard box that would suit his purposes, and planned his course of action. My wife did the cutting, but the planning was all his.

I've posted his handiwork if you'd like to see it. Oh, and I should mention my son's name is John.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Take my content, please...

The good folks over at the Open University in the UK wrote a post this morning about the hesitancy of people remixing their materials. From the post:

"In the last year we’ve seen around 900,000 people using OpenLearn materials in teaching and learning around the world. What we’ve seen much less of is people reworking our materials - as they are free to do under the Creative Commons license - and replacing the reworked materials back in the public domain for others to benefit from...

"There is a nervousness about reworking other people’s finely tuned academic content and publishing what may be unfinished and untested materials. There are barriers to reworking - some technical. However, even when we’ve reduced the technical barriers, lack of time and uncertainty about the value of the remixed resources can get in the way."

We have found the same thing at USU OCW. Almost a thousand unique visitors a day, and yet there are not many people taking, reworking, and publishing our material. At least not that we know of.

I can't help but agree that part of the problem could be that there seems to be a barrier when the existing content is the work of one person. Maybe it’s because when we change a person's content we are in a sense telling them that their materials are not good enough. That they need to be improved. People seem to be more than willing to edit a community project, such as wikipedia.

I have found my own attempts at collaborative composition to not exactly work. People drop by my wiki, but few edit my work. Compare that to the million penguins project. People were very willing to add and edit that content, because it started out as a group effort.

I hope that as the Open OCW takes off, we'll see more reuse of existing content.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A complicated issue...

I was looking online to see what time our library closed. I found the hours, and then noticed a link to a list of the 100 most banned books. I should note that our library called them banned books, the site I link to says 'challenged books'.

I think what they mean by challenged books are books that people try, and maybe sometimes succeed, to get out of the public school. I personally think the more information the better, so I don't much care for the banning, or challenging, of books.

However, I was struck with a very curious thought as I looked over the list. The only books I know that are regularly banned from the classroom are books like the Bible, The Koran, and other religious texts. These books are banned, but were not on the list.

Now I understand the whole 'separation of church and state', but it brings up a complicated issue. We don't want teachers using the bible to educate children because religion is a very personal thing. And sometimes people go overboard. The bible teaches Christian morals and values. It also teaches things that cannot be verified by science. People feel uncomfortable when teachers, who hold a position of authority, teach ideas out of these texts. Religion, so they say, is best left up to parents.

But there are great stories, ideas, morals, and values in these religious texts. I'm sorry, I don't care what religion you are, David and Goliath is a fantastic story. The little guy standing up to the big guy. He succeeds by thinking outside the box.

I can't tell you any good stories or values from the Koran. That book was banned in my school.

I'm not saying I think we should bring religious text into public schools. But I also don't know if I agree with the banning of religious text. I think it's a complicated issue, and I don't quite know what the answer is. What I do know, is that these kind of religious texts should be on the list of banned, or challenged, books. Because if ever there was a 'banned book', those fit the definition.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Political Sweetness

My undergrad was in Political Science, and my heart will always be there. I love studying politics. I like the history aspect, I like the psychology aspect, I like how deep down it's all about the understanding of human nature.

So, it was a happy day for me when I stopped by The McLaughlin Group home page only to discover you can download video or audio files of their episode. You can't find a better place to tune in to an intelligent discussion of current events. Well, except for maybe Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me (go P.J.!) Wait Wait is also available for podcast download.

In the immortal words of Mr. McLaughlin.

BYE BYE!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

More UOCWA Press

I believe we had three newspapers, and an NPR radio station at our Utah OpenCourseWare Alliance launch on Thursday. It looks like the Deseret News did their writeup this morning.

You can read it here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sweet Keynote

I've attended several of Brian Lamb's presentations, and I'm never disappointed. Brian's keynote today was no exception. I didn't take notes because I wanted to just sit back and enjoy. However, you will be able to watch/listen to it here shortly. Most presentations have been up within 24 hours. I highly recommend it.

Just one of the more memorable quotes:

"When somebody puts the Creative Commons logo on their stuff, it's like a little button that says, 'I am not a jerk'".

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Utah OCW Alliance

The Utah OCW Alliance got a bit of press today! insidehighered.com did a writeup about the Utah Alliance, in conjunction with our public launch this morning. You can read the article here...

Friday, September 21, 2007

I love my job...

I don't think I've blogged about how much I love my job, lately. I mean, I haven't just loved it lately, I've loved it for a long time. I just haven't mentioned it in the past little bit.

I am the director of Utah State's OpenCourseWare project, and we've got 70 courses online. They are more than just 'free', they are 'open', which is even better. It means you can take the content, modify it, build upon it, and re-share it with the world.

Last winter I was given some additional responsibilities. Instead of just helping out with USU OCW, I was asked to act as director of the Utah OpenCourseWare Alliance. Today, we've passed a milestone. We now have 8 schools in the state involved with OpenCourseWare, and we have passed the 100 courses mark. You can visit the Utah Alliance site here, or see the entire list of courses here.

It's nice to like your job. I was sick all last week, and I missed the work. I count myself lucky.

I wonder...

Looks like the Heinlein Archives are now online. You can access any of the manuscripts, look at his early drafts, the finished products, etc.

When I first saw the article, I thought they were making them freely available. But alas, you have to pay. I can't help but wonder if the better model wouldn't be to make all of his stories available online, and then put up google ads. I wonder how much revenue would be generated one way verses the other. Maybe the Asimov Foundation should pick the latter model, and we can revisit the topic in a few years.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm becoming one of THEM...

I remember quite clearly sitting in Sunday School, watching my middle-aged teacher try to get this new-fangled VCR to work. She had tried to plan ahead. She had the tape just where she wanted it. It was in the VCR, she was hitting play, and nothing was happening. She hit stop, then play. She checked the cords connecting the TV and VCR. She was lost. She was clueless. And 6 teenagers sat and watched, every one of them knowing exactly what was wrong.

The power was off. Oh sure, the clock was blinking, but the VCR was off. She had to hit power first, then play. The solution was so obvious. We all knew it but none of us bothered to help. She was middle-aged, she just shouldn't be messing with technology.

I swore I would never become one of them. A person who struggles with technology. I love technology. It's a big part of my professional and personal life. I'm a digital native, so I'll never become like that, right?

More and more I wonder. I bought a blackberry 3 weeks ago. I can't figure the thing out. It seems to me that the engineers built it specifically to be counter-intuitive. The phone shuts itself off, seemingly at random times. I have missed over a dozen calls. There is an envelope icon that has a number next to it. The number continues to increase over time, but despite the fact that I've checked my voice mails, my text messages, and everything else on there, I can't seem to access that feature.

I sit next to a student who works for me. I think of her as 'just a few years younger' than me, but she was born when I entered high school. I want to ask her for help, but I know if I did, she would know the answer. Immediately and intuitively. She would take the phone, push a button, and pass it back. And it would all work. And then I would certainly be one of them. One of those that just doesn't get it.

And that thought makes me shudder.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sick

If you live in Utah, you've heard about the swimming pool parasite going around. Well, it went around at my house. It his us HARD.

Friday night we had dinner and then loaded the kids in the van and headed to Payson to see the in-laws. As I got in the car I thought, "I kind of feel like I'm getting the flu". By the time we got to Payson, I could only crawl into the house and crash in the bed. I didn't leave the bed until 2:00 the next afternoon. I crawled out to the van and we headed home. By the time we got home, my wife was starting to feel sick. We turned the kids loose, told them they should act like adults, and went to bed. The next day, Sunday, was spent in the bed. My wife and I were both hammered. Fever, chills, intestinal problems, dehydration... I realized at this point that I hadn't eaten anything since Friday. Nor did I want to. I could hardly stand. At one point I remember thinking I had to eat something, so I ate a bit of yogurt. There weren't any clean dishes (remember, the kids had been placed in charge), so I ate it with a butter knife.

Over the course of about 3 days, I lost 8 pounds. We finally gave in, called my mom, and she came over to take me to the doctor. They ran a test to determine what we had already decided, we had cryptosporidium. It slowly made it's way through the whole house. My mom saved us by bringing dinner, cleaning the house, and taking us to the doctor. Mom's are the BEST.

Anyway, it's Friday, and I'm almost back to full strength. I'm weak, but at least I can eat. I came up with all of these great blog ideas while lying on my bed, swearing I would never go swimming again, but I think I've forgotten most of them. If I any come to me, and they are actually good ideas, and not delirium induced silliness, I'll post them.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Interesting article...

It's been a while since I've blogged about wikis. I'm afraid my attention moves from one area of interest to another. But I came across an article that was very interesting.

The article is a review of a book called Wikinomics. The general idea of the book is that the internet hasn't even scratched the surface of how we live and work. The article references Ronald Coase, and his essay on firms. It costs money to collaborate, and companies found it was cheaper to gather people and tools together in one spot to 'build' whatever it was they were building, than to go out and try to collaborate with others every time they needed something.

But now the internet is changing things. The article gives several examples. A gold mine was going out of business. They weren't finding gold and the owner was ready to shut the plant down.

Then he visited MIT and heard about 'open source' software. He wondered he could mine gold on the internet. Sounds crazy, but he opened his maps, his charts, and his data. He gave away $500,000 in prize money for people who could tell him where to dig.

The locations came pouring in from retired geologists, grad students, and others. Half of the locations were spots they had not mined. Eighty percent of those spots turned up to contain gold. His company went from being worth 100 million to 9 billion.

The author gives other examples, like the motorcycling industry in China that is a collection of very small firms that are open and collaborating.

It's an interesting idea, and a great article. I do have to quote one part from it. I'd never heard of the comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, but I'm going to have to check them out. As quoted from the article...

"Are you personally affected by this issue? Then email us. Or if you're not affected by this issue, can you imagine what it would be like if you were? Or if you are affected by it, but don't want to talk about it, can you imagine what it would be like not being affected by it? Why not email us? You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you reckon something. So why not tell us what you reckon. Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uninformed, ad hoc reckon, by going to bbc.co.uk, clicking on 'what I reckon' and then simply beating on the keyboard with your fists or head."

Friday, August 31, 2007

Copyright Wackyness

Very funny story of Viacom suing a person over using one of their videos, only to discover that they had in fact violated the very persons' right that they were suing . The best part?

The guy "doesn't want any money—just for the clip to be restored and have it established that other independent content creators have rights under Fair Use to "show how their works are being appreciated in the wider world."

That would be a great first step. We need more (any?) common sense in our intellectual property laws.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Can you wrap your brain around it?

Great article in Wired magazine this month. Clive Thompson talks about how Bill Gates is trying to rescue the earth. Say what you want about Gates, but his humanitarian efforts are outstanding.

Thompson argues the reason Gates is so good at philanthropy is because he gets big numbers. The articles gives some interesting insights into how our brains deal with numbers. From the article:

"In one recent experiment, Slovic presented subjects with a picture of "Rokia," a starving child in Mali, and asked them how much they'd be willing to give to help feed her. Then he showed a different group photos of two Malinese children — "Rokia and Moussa." The group presented with two kids gave 15 percent less than those shown just one child. In a related experiment, people were asked to donate money to help a dying child. When a second set of subjects was asked to donate to a group of eight children dying of the same cause, the average donation was 50 percent lower.

"Slovic suspects this stuff is hardwired. Psychologists have long observed that our ability to discriminate among quantities is finely tuned when dealing with small amounts but quickly degrades as the numbers get larger. We'll break the bank to save Baby Jessica, but when half of Africa is dying, we're buying iPhones.

"Which brings me back to Gates. The guy is practically a social cripple, and at times he has seemed to lack human empathy. But he's also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers. Their imagination can scale up and down the powers of 10 — mega, giga, tera, peta — because their jobs demand it.

"So maybe that's why he is able to truly understand mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: Preventable death = bad; preventable death x 1 million people = 1 million times as bad."

Great article about a guy who too often gets a bad rap.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

On writing, take 2

I did a book signing the other day, and after had the opportunity to have lunch with Rob Wells. That's right The Rob Wells. It was a very nice lunch, with the exception of all of the people stopping by the table, begging for Rob's autograph, asking for a picture, giving him their baby to kiss, etc.

But in between all this, we talked a bit about the writing process. Rob read the same book I did, many years ago. Or rather I read it many years ago, I'm not sure when Rob read it. Anyway, it is a book called On Writing, by Stephen King. In it, Stephen King tells how he goes about the writing process. I've also read Orson Scott Card's book on the same subject. I am also a member of a group of authors, and here and there I hear how other people write.

I think I've decided that everybody has their own style, and there isn't a 'right way'.

So, I thought I'd share how I write. Not that it's the best way, or even a good way, just the way I do it. At first I went into great detail, but when I went back and read it, and I was bored to tears. So, here is the bulleted version.

  • When I write a book, I start at the beginning, and write all the way through. I never write chapters ahead, or start with the end. Because by the time I get there, things might have changed. Rarely do I know whats going to happen 2-3 chapters ahead.
  • I don't write much. When I sit down to write, I'm usually done in under two hours. And I write maybe once a week.
  • When I sit down, I have the whole scene in my head. I've worked it out in the past weeks or months. I think about the characters in the shower, on my way to work, while sitting in church (Ha! just kidding. Or am I?). When I'm ready to write, I've thought about it so much that it just comes out.
  • I usually don't cut much. The benefit of working it out for a month is that it's usually in good shape when I put it down on paper. Most of what I write gets in the finished product (unless my publisher cuts it because it refers to butt cheeks, in which case it appears on my blog).
  • My first 're-edit' is the hardest. After I've written I go back in a week and polish things up. My wording, tone, verbage is usually so bad that I often decide I'm a no-talent hack. I've often quit for months because I get so depressed about my ability to write, or lack thereof.
  • After the second re-edit is usually the point where I show it to somebody else.
  • Unfortunately I'm extremely motivated by external forces. So if people don't like what I've written, I'll stop for months, maybe longer. If they like it, and I can tell they really mean it, I get right back to writing. I wish it was different, but it's not. :)
  • I never force myself to write. If I do, what I write is bunk. Although it could just be that I'm lazy. Usually the characters become so vivid in my tiny, little brain, when I do write it's because I feel compelled.
  • Or maybe it's just because I'm lazy.
So, there you have it. That is why I put out a book, every other year. And the books so far have been only about 200 pages long. I'm so sloooooooow.

FaceBook

I've recently joined FaceBook, and it's kind of nifty. Lot of good stuff there.

I've started a group where authors of LDS literature and readers of the same can get together, talk, discuss upcoming projects, etc. Anybody interested can join here...

You will need to be signed up and logged in for the link above to work, but registration is free, and only takes a few seconds. We've already got several authors online, so come and see who is there. Don't forget to invite your friends!

Friday, August 17, 2007

On Writing...

Excellent article on writing. This guy covers it all. The pay, the work, the cold hard truth. Very good read.

By the skin of my teeth.

Last night I sent my wife out shopping. She needed a break and I was happy to do it. However, toward the end of the evening things got rough. We've had sick kids, and last night they were all feeling pretty rough. I was trying to balance the needs of 5 boys when the baby got a stinky diaper. I went to change him and discovered that he had a very bad rash. The diaper was ugly, stuff coming out the sides and back, etc. All the while I'm messing with the baby, my broken legged boy is needing to be moved, the other kids are fighting, so things are pretty hectic. My wife picked this time to call.

My son brought me the phone. I was trying to keep the baby from rolling over and spreading 'stuff' all over the place, and fiddling with the wipes and dirty diaper.

"I can't talk right now," I told my son. He turned around and left, passing the message onto my wife. 5 seconds later he comes back in.

"Mom wants to know if you want the white sprinkler, or the beige sprinkler."

I was at the end of my rope. My first instinct was to grab the phone and yell, "I'm a guy, to me white and beige are the same color! In fact, I don't even know for sure what color beige is! Why are you bothering me with this!"

But in the 11 years of marriage, I don't think I've ever yelled at my wife, so I said, "Tell her I'm fine with either one." He passed on the message, and luckily didn't mention that I had said those words through gritted teeth, with my brow furrowed.

Well, when my wife came home, I found out that the messenger (my son) had messed things up. She was calling to find out if I wanted a spiked sprinkler, or a base sprinkler. We had a good chuckle. In the back of my mind I made a mental note that any time I feel like yelling, I should probably take a step back. It's never quite what you think. We'll remember last night because it's funny, not because feelings were hurt.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mountain Biking

So I've been doing a bit of mountain biking this week. Every day, in fact. I'm a tired old man.

Monday we rode the river trail, and the deer fence trail. Tuesday was green canyon plus, Wednesday was identical to Monday, and today we did the deer fence trail and green canyon. We is a mixture of Justin, Joel, Tom, and Leslie, all folks I work with (I'm a tired, old man, but a very lucky one). I wouldn't be riding this much, or as fast as I ride, if it wasn't for these folks.

Today on the way up Green Canyon we were talking about 'extreme' athletes. Folks who push things to the edge, and then jump off that edge, screaming like a mad man. These folks do the really crazy stuff. They jump off cliffs, climb cliffs, ride bikes of cliffs. Really, anything with a cliff involved. It got me thinking about two different epitaphs;

  • He died doing what he loved.
Verses...
  • He did what he loved for a long time, and then died.
I'm thinking the latter is the one I want on my tombstone. It's not as poetic, but hey, I am kind of partial to it. So I'm taking it a bit on the easy side.

I did feel bad that I skipped breakfast. I didn't do it intentionally, I just didn't think about it. The end result was about 3/4 the way up Green Canyon I hit a wall. I just couldn't keep up with Justin and Leslie. I really wanted to, because I had done a half way decent job up until that point, but my body was whining like a 3 year old who has just been told Santa was behind bars, and Christmas is canceled.

So today, this tired old man is going down to Sam's Club and buying a whole lot of granola bars.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Mac

So, I made the switch from a PC to a Mac about 3 months ago. I've read many a review online of people who love their new Mac. They like to caress it, they like to cuddle with it, and yes, they like to kiss it, too.

For me, it's more of a take it or leave it. Don't get me wrong, there are a LOT of things I like about my new mac. It's easier to find files, it's got a nice integrated camera, I haven't had any problems with viruses (although in all my years of using a PC, I have never had a problem with a virus on them either), and it keeps my lap very warm and toasty. But there are a lot of things I don't like about it. Just as many things as I didn't like about my PC. Different things, but just as many.

For example, the keyboard shortcuts are all whacked on a Mac. Home, ctrl left arrow, apple end, it's all a crap shoot depending on which program you're in. On a PC, I could get to any section of a document quicker by using home, end, page up, etc., than I could by moving my hand over, getting the mouse, and clicking. On the mac, that is no longer an option. I had to go in and rewrite some files, just to get the home and end buttons to do what they do on every other computer operating system in the world. And several times I've been writing an e-mail, or adding a comment to a web site, and hit the wrong key, only to have the browser back up, and I lose everything I've written. It doesn't even have a delete key (or rather it does, but it acts like a backspace, to get it to delete you have to press two buttons at the same time).

And what about this whole 'if you're doing multimedia, it's tons easier on the mac. Well, not really. Maybe a little, but there are still a whole boat load of problems. For example, I have a camera that shoots in widescreen. When I import this in iMovie, the mac tries to change the video to letterbox because...well, I'm not sure why. So since it's already shot in widescreen, and is trying to make it widescreen a second time, it skews the movie. So after 2 hours of importing a home movie, the end result was worthless. How do you fix this? Easy, says a macworld article, "Instead of switching to Edit mode, stay in Camera mode. Save the project, quit iMovie, and turn off the camera. When you reopen the project, the video will stay 16:9."

Ah yes, the Mac. It just works. But only after you do all sorts of things that are counter-intuitive.

It seems to me that the PC is a bit tricker to use. There are more options and settings. The Mac is more streamlined (you have to mess with the settings to make it so your laptop has a right click), and 'easy', but this means that, at least from what I've seen, you lose functionality. On the PC you can probably change some setting to turn the letterbox off, but not on the Mac, at least not what I can see.

Another example of this easier to use, less functionality is the iPod. On the iPod there is no separate volume. Instead, you use the scroll wheel that is also used to move through different menus. The problem is that if you're in the menu, and suddenly you have a song blaring in your ears, you can't turn it down. Messing with the scroll wheel only moves you through menus. You have to navigate back to the song, and only then will the wheel act as a volume. Usually by that time my ears are bleeding.

The other problem I have found with the Mac is that there just isn't the open source software you'll find for the PC. Just as hackers will write viruses for the PC, because they get more bang for their buck, so too do software writers. Why spend all this time writing for a platform that has a smaller user base? Don't get me wrong, it's not that there isn't any software, there is just not as much.

So, all in all I like my Mac. I'd put my Mac up against any PC, but I wouldn't expect it to win hands down, as others have said. It certainly has it's strengths, but it also has it's quirks. Plenty of quirks. Quirks that have driven me to the brink of madness over the past three months. The Mac has it's problems, and it has it's strengths.

Just like the PC.

Friday, August 10, 2007

My new, new commute...

We changed offices, so I changed bike routes, I used to follow this path, but now follow this one. I don't do it everyday, only when my friend Justin comes in this way. It's a lot of fun. A lot of pain, and I'm grossly out of shape, with no leg muscle, lung capacity, and the propensity to whine, but it only take about 15 minutes after the bike ride to think, "you know, that wasn't too bad."

Passing...

This morning one of the leaders of my church, James Faust, passed away. He has given his life to teaching, helping, and serving others. Every six months, leaders in our church broadcast messages. We call it General Conference. Last conference, the talk that stood out to me most was President Faust's. It gave a message that I think anybody and everybody can learn from and appreciate it, not just members of our church.

If you'd like to read it, you can find it here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ahoy Mateys...

Nice, finally a party I can join and feel good about.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Last Book Signing?

I have never liked book signings. I just feel out of place. I don't like to be the center of attention so they make me uncomfortable.

In addition to that, book signings make other people in the store uncomfortable. They don't want to come over and talk to me because they feel like if they do they're obligated to buy my book. If they walk away without buying it, isn't that kind of like kicking me in the pants, insulting my mother, and spitting on my head? So instead of coming to talk to me, folks pretend to see something interesting on the other side of the store and head that way. I don't blame them, I do the exact same thing when I'm the customer.

So I swore in my wrath (ok, it wasn't wrath, as more of a blah feeling, but 'swore while I was having a blah feeling' doesn't have the same ring to it as the wrath bit does), I swore in my wrath that I would never do another book signing. But then I got suckered into one. It's BYU's education week, and they are kind of fun. They are fun because any time I'm on BYU's campus it's kind of fun. I'm an Aggie, and I wear a beard, so I kind of feel like a rebel spy or something whenever I go down there. If I had enough time, I would have grown a mullet. Maybe shave a handlebar mustache or something.

But anyway, if you want to stop by, please do. I won't make you buy a book. I won't feel bad if you don't buy a book. Honestly. I might give you a hug because you made eye contact, but that is the worst that will happen.

I will be in the BYU bookstore (I think that is where they put us) on August 22, from 11:00 until 1:00. Maybe I'll have some door prize or something for everybody who stops by and called me a bearded heathen.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The linux of Search Engines?

Interesting article. I've often wondered if you could have an 'open' search engine. Jimmy Wales, the really, really cool guy who started wikipedia, is heading up the project. Should at least be interesting...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

Or rather, pay no attention to those ads. I've signed up for adsense, not because I want to make a lot of money, but because I've been curious as to what kind of ads would appear on this site. I'll probably keep them up for a few weeks, and then shut them off.

An interesting side note about this blog is that if you do a search for exploding coconuts, my blog is the first one on the list. I wrote an article about it years ago, and it's number one. When people have a coconut explode, and they turn to the web for detailed, informative information. They don't find it, instead they find my blog. Imagining their bitter disappointment keeps me up at night, but what can a blogger do?

So anyway, my own personalized ads should be showing up soon, and the world will soon know the answer to this burning question: what kind of ads will appear on a blog posting about exploding coconuts?

This is almost as exciting as waiting for the last book in the Harry Potter series.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I haven't the skin for it...

So I write for a small blog that is owned by a guy who is the brother of a person I work for. I wrote a post the other day, and thought little of it (by the way, the title isn't mine). It is just some of my thoughts about tying information to location. I always post the same stuff here, just a few days later. Again, it's just a little blog post. Nothing fancy.

The next thing I know the article is on the front page of slashdot. Then it hits Digg's front page. Then it gets techmeme'd and is on the front page of del.icio.us. It's been read about 30,000 times.

I'd be feeling good if it wasn't for all the negative comments about my spelling prowess. I'll be the first to admit that I'm no editor. Which is too bad. But I think it does show that the idea is a keen one, and people are interested in the concept.

My only regret is that I should have written this article after we had built some kind of prototype that allows people to do exactly what I was describing. I think if it done so that it's easy for the end user, a lot of really cool applications will be 'thunk up' up by the internet community at large.

I'm sorry if I misspelled thunk up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pass me a drink

I don't know if it's been in the news more lately, or if I've just happened to hear about it, but bottled water is under attack. And as far as I can see, for good reason. Here is probably the most succinct of the articles I've read.

So, buy a water bottle, hit the drinking fountain, and call it good.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Great, so now what?

Good article over at the Open University blog. The author asks a question we all struggle with at times, I think. From the article:

"At the OU, we like to think (rightly) that we have a good understanding of how to construct print based, distance learning educational materials - tutorials in print - supported by a network of personal tutors and online forums.

"But I'm not so sure that we - or anyone else for that matter - has really got to grips with developing pedagogically sound, compelling and engaging online delivery models.

"So here's where I'm stuck at at the moment:

  1. "Training" people how to add data to maps, create timelines, etc etc is important and something we should be doing. Why? I don't know - maybe because it's a useful online communication skill?

  2. Using interactive maps etc. is a way of encouraging learners to explore.... errr... explore what, I'm not exactly sure.

  3. Embedding audio and video in online material breaks up the text and makes use of the medium. It allows learners to hear real voices, see real people. But is that important. Do I need to see Professor XYZ talking about whatever, when I can just read their paper? Or does rich media content break the flow of study (i.e. break the flow of reading print on-screen... Or maybe I printed everyhting off and I'm reading it on paper?)"
Some really good points. There are now so many tools, and so many ways to use those tools, and even more ways to mash those tools up, that it can be overwhelming at times. As the Insane Devil Woman pointed out, you can now report online that you are sick, and google maps will post all of that information online. So you can see where other people are sick, on a cool, little interactive map. Great. So...

But I really don't see an alternative. Our best bet is to get a whole bunch of tools out there, let people use, reuse, and mash them together, and see what bubbles to the top. Sometimes we create a tool for one purpose, only to find out it is perfectly suited to something else. To me, that is where things get exciting.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I'm a cheap old man...

So, we went to the store today, and I thought it would be fun to get a few fireworks. They had a big pack of fireworks called the 'Big Bubba' for $232, or there were some snaps and those flower thingies.

So I bought each of the kids a whole box of snaps (when I was little, we just got 2 individual snaps, and we had to share one with a brother). And then I got a pack of flower spinny things. The total came to $.72.

That's right. Seventy two cents.

So my wife is making fun of how cheap I am. But, we had at least 20 minutes of fun. The kids snapped for a while, threw them at each other, dropped them from high places, broke them between their fingers. Good times.

Then came the flowers. We lit one and went "wow". Then, call us crazy, WE LIT TWO AT THE SAME TIME! All we could say was "wow wow!" We would have lit three in a row, but there were only four in the pack so we lit the last one and all cheered.

Then, since we had matches, and it's the 4th, we lit the last few snaps on fire. We started a little match/snap bonfire, and I let all the kids light matches (they were out of sparklers). They would light the match, blow it out, and come back for more. My three year old almost lit my shirt on fire, but other than that, it was a roaring success.

All for 72 pennies. Tell me, how could Big Bubba had given us any more entertainment?

Friday, June 29, 2007

These are the Daves I know I know


These are the Daves I know, I know
These are the Daves I know
One of them is Justin,
But most of them are Daves

Ok, I guess not too many folks will get that little reference, but there you have it, sometimes humor is exclusive...

These are a few of the folks I work with standing in line to buy an iPhone. They could wait for two weeks and just buy one then, but where is the fun in that? This is like an event. I went down and talked to them, and it's quite the party. Anytime there are Popsicles, you know good times are to be had.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nice Ride

Went out with some friends yesterday for a mountain bike ride up Green Canyon. It was a 10.6 mile ride, round trip. It was a lot of fun to ride with other folks. The benefit is that you kind of have to keep up. When I go myself I think, "I'm kind of tired, maybe I'll stop." When you're riding with others you just have to keep going.

I'm impressed with how good these guys are. I was wheezing, huffing, puffing, gasping the entire way, and almost everybody else was just chatting like they were sitting around a BBQ, sharing some drinks. I was pleased that I was able to keep up. For the most part I was never more than 10-15 seconds behind whoever was leading, although toward the end I was really feeling the fact that I hadn't eaten since 2:00. In fact, all that day I ate kind of poorly. Nothing for breakfast, a piece of cake and a couple of breadsticks for lunch, and then a Creamie at 2:00. I need to listen to the more experienced riders, and do what they do, eat as they eat, and drink as they drink.

All in all, a fun little ride.

Twitter is about as clunky as can be...

So color me unimpressed with Twitter. I believe their functionality has changed, because there is no way that in their current state they would get more than 8 users, and those users would only be involved because their masochists.

It's a great idea, and kind of fun, but holy cow their web site has problems. Maybe it's me, but I don't think so.

First of all, there is currently no way to search for other users using twitter. So I found out that I have two friends using twitter, but guess what? Can't do anything about that. The only way to search Twitter is to use a third party program. The problem? That third party program doesn't have access to let you add them as a friend. So you can see them, but you can't actually add them to your list.

The only way I can see that you can add a friend is if you happen to be on the web site when they add something. There is a 'public timeline' that shows EVERYBODY who is twittering. So if you call your friend, tell them to twitt, and the hit refresh until you see their message, you can then and only then, add them as a friend.

I've checked the FAQ and the help and it's useless. They point you to the third party API that again, doesn't allow you to add them. I submitted an e-mail to their help, but it froze up their server. When I tried to go back I got an error message.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I'm not impressed. I hope they turn their user search back on, because I can see how this would be a fun little app.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My commute has gotten worse...

But that is a good thing.

I have an interesting commute to work. I have three options.

Option 1) I can walk three blocks and catch the bus that drops me off about 50 feet from the door to my building.

Options 2) I can drive my car and park about 5 blocks from my building.

Option 3) I can ride my bike to work, and lock it up about 30 feet from the door to my building.

Option 1 takes 10 minutes. Option 2 takes 10 minutes. And option 3 takes 10 minutes when I'm not in shape, and 8.5 minutes when I am. So it's summer, it's beautiful weather, I'm out of shape, so clearly option 3 is the best answer.

But I just round a different route that takes me 35 minutes (I'm hoping to cut it down to 30 after I get in shape). This route takes me down to a dam, up the side of a mountain, and then across and back down. You can see both the old and new route here.

Anyway, I'm hoping that if I stick to this commute, and work my tail off, by the end of the year I will be able to keep up with the COSL racing team for 8 minutes, instead of my customary 85 seconds.

If you're ever in the area, my commute is also a lovely hike. You can start right at the trail head and enjoy a lovely view of the entire valley. Enjoy it now before the encroaching development takes it all over.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Book Signing

I'm doing a book signing July 13th, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, at the Book Table. It's for a charity, and there will be multiple authors there. Should be fun. Feel free to swing by if you're in the neighborhood.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Anybody out there Twitter?

Twitter is one of those things that you hear about, can't really understand what all the fuss is about, but you hear so much you can't help but do a bit more exploring. However, like most social software on the web, works better with friends. So, anybody out there twitter? If so, let e-mail me so I can add you as a friend. Because right now, I'm friendless...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tracking the Net

Ever wondered who is doing what on the internet? Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

The Whitneys...

LDStorymakers is starting a new awards thingy. From their site.

"The Whitneys are an awards program for LDS fiction, and are sponsored by the LDStorymakers. One of the most commonly repeated quotes among LDS authors is from Orson F. Whitney: “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” As it is the goal of LDStorymakers to increase the quantity and quality of LDS fiction, it's only reasonable that the Storymakers should also honor those authors who excel and continually raise the bar."

So the book doesn't have to be LDS, just the author. I'd ask you all to go over and nominate my book, but unfortunately there is no category for what I write.

"The Whitney Awards honor novels in the following categories: Romance/Women’s Fiction, Suspense/Mystery, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Historical, Novel of the Year, and Best Novel by a New Author. Novels can be nominated by any reader (via this website or by mail), and nominees are voted on by an academy of industry professionals, including authors, publishers, bookstore owners, distributors, critics, and others."

I lobbied for a "Young Reader, Humorous, Quasi-Autobiographical, All of the Kids are the Same-Gender Family" award, but to no avail. Greasing palms with two dollar bills just doesn't get you what it used to, back in the day.

But seriously, think about a good book you've read, head on over to the site, and nominate that sucker.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Good Cause


I love my job. I can’t think of another job I’d rather be at, or another work I’d rather be involved in. I feel like it’s a good cause. I feel like maybe something I’m going to do today will make a difference to somebody, somewhere. It is fulfilling.

But I want to talk for just a minute about another good cause. One that also inspires me, and it’s one that my father has devoted his life to.

My dad arrived at Thiokol in 1979. A few months later his company delivered the solid rocket booster motors to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Two years later those same rockets took the space shuttle on its first flight into outer space. That’s right, my dad’s a rocket scientist. Those twin blazing infernos pictured above are what he works on, every day.

He has been with that company for every single launch of the space shuttle. He designs the instruments that ensure the motor is functioning properly. This last week he was asked to go to Florida as a special guest to witness the latest launch. Last night, we stood on my parent’s deck and watched the international space station move steadily across the Northern sky. It was visible because even though the ground was covered in darkness, 200 miles above the space station was still in sunlight. The grandchildren were amazed that Grandpa had built the rockets, watched the rockets go up, and that now the space shuttle was attached to that pin point of light, hundreds of miles above their heads.

There has always been something inspiring about explorers–the act of doing something that has never been done before. And while the era of terrestrial explorers is winding down, space still is wide open. There is so much still left to the unknown.

My dad still works at Thiokol, and is currently working on the next generation shuttle system. He was at the birth of one program, and is now serving as a midwife to the next one.

My dad is an inspiration to me, in this way, and so many others. So, to my dad, and Dad’s everywhere…Happy Fathers Day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Confused by copyright?

Great little video that explains what copyright is, how fair use limits copyright, and does it in a clever way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Trailing Boys...


I went walking with my boys today. Walking used to be a simple procedure. You lean forward, catch yourself with your right leg (or your left, it doesn't matter to begin with), lean forward again, catch yourself with your other leg, and repeat. I've been doing it for 33 years now, I’m somewhat of an expert.

But walking with boys is different. There are boys who run ahead of me, boys who walk next to me, and boys who walk behind. What happens is that I walk at a normal pace, then I have to stop and wait, then I have to walk slower, then I have to yell ahead of me at somebody to slow down. They say you burn about 200 calories walking for an hour. I burn 600 easily, on a good day.

I'm not complaining about taking walks with my boys, but today I noticed something. There are three zones that my boys end up in. The first zone is roughly even with me, or anywhere ahead. The second zone is behind me, maybe 10-15 yards. The third zone is behind me and longer than 15 yards.

In the first zone the kids usually lollygag. They are ahead of me, or at least close to me, so they stop to examine a bug, pick up a particularly strange rock, or try to scare a bird into flight. Since they are lollygagging, they invariable slow down and end up in zone two.

Zone two is usually where the boy realizes that he is behind. He will often call out to me, asking me to wait up. I yell OK, and keep walking. They jog a bit, and soon are back into zone one.

However, sometimes they are so enthralled with the bug, rock, or bird that they fall completely out of zone two and end up in zone three. Now my older boys can get out of zone three without a problem, but my 5 and 3 year old can't. What happens is that they yell at me to stop. When I don't (I know, bad Dad), they look at the distance (over 15 yards), and give up hope. They fall down to the ground and assume what I call the Charlie Brown position (kneeling down on the pavement, screaming, and often striking the ground with a fist). At this point I have to stop because neighbors are peeking out of their houses. I walk back so that the child is in zone two, speak a few encouraging words, and they once again catch up.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, it doesn't have to have to do with anything, but I can't help but compare it to learning. Because, well...that is all I deal with all day--at work and at home.

Whenever a person sits down to learn something, they are in one of three zones. They are either all caught up, or maybe ahead. They are behind just a little, or they are completely lost. In zone one it's quite easy to lollygag. I understand what the prof. is saying, I can sleep, just a little. I don't need to read the chapter. Ultimately that leads you to zone two where you realize you don't quite understand. You need to focus, study, or pay attention so that you don't fall into zone three. You’re not confused or lost, you’re catching up. You’re learning. Zone three, of course, is a zone of panic. You realize you're clueless, you need some serious help, and you don't understand anything of what is being said. This is a bad zone to be in.

When I'm teaching my boys, I can tell which zone they are in. If they're in zone one, I pick up the pace. Chop, chop, let’s make it harder. I purposefully move ahead until they are in that sweet spot, zone two. Here they have to pay attention. They are not frustrated, they are not bored, they are learning. It is incredibly hard to keep a person in this zone. Good video games can do it, but it's hard to design instruction that keeps a person in zone two for an extended period of time.

It becomes even harder when you add a second, third, or maybe 25 other learners to the mix. Then you have kids in all sorts of zones. Do you push those in zone one? Do you slow down for the people yelling in zone three? Personally if I was in that situation I'd just curl up into the fetal position. I don't think it can be done, at least not very well. You can't manage kids in all zones. They will always be in different zones, despite our best hopes that none of them are left behind.

May I conclude with yet another rant about copyright law. If I create a program, write a text, or prepare a lesson, ultimately it has to be catered to a zone. This program is for 4th graders, who are struggling at math (zone 3). But copyright law locks that content down. I can't modify it and use it for those in zone 1 or 2. I can't adapt it to 3rd graders, or make it more challenging for 5th graders. It’s tied down. It’s set in stone.

There are now thousands of 'things' out there that are licensed under a creative commons or GPL license. Professors and educators should be using, reusing, mashing, and remixing these items. The more we can proliferate this material, and make it adaptable to a wider audience (in all zones), the better off the learners will be.

The key is to realize that automation is not going to be the silver bullet. You can never rely on a program to adapt to a child. Technology will always be an important part of the equation, but at the end of the day you need a teacher, you need a learner, and you need useful content.

Monday, June 04, 2007

GeoStories

I've been kicking around an idea lately about tying information to a physical location. Right now we get information when we're at our computers. With phones, we're moving a little toward getting information 'on the go', but information is still tied to key words and not locations. With GPS units that can pin point a location to just a few feet, why can't we start tying all of the information on the web, to locations where it might be more valuable?

So if I'm standing in front of a tree, I might be able to do a quick search to see if anybody has tied any information to that spot. I might find an arborist who describes why kind of tree it is. Or maybe a local who can tell me when it was planted, and by whom. Or maybe a young couple got engaged under it, and they can tell me their story. The important thing is that the information is relevant to a location.

I had this idea several years ago for such a site but since I'm a poser, and not a coder, I really couldn't do anything about it. But now, google maps has made it possible to do just what I've described. With their personal maps you can enter the latitude and longitude, type in information, link to a web site, or link to audio and video you've created.

USU is hosting a conference this fall, and I've begun to mark points of interest in Logan for our visitors. I've got places to eat, things to see, campus map, etc. I also intend to add a hikes and the great outdoors section. It's just a start (there are more than two places to eat in Logan), but I intend to add more as I get a chance. Such a page could be useful for our conference attendees, but also useful for anybody else coming to Logan. I've put in a request to google to allow for collaborative maps, so that others can add to the site.

I've also documented how to make this kind of map over at this site. Just click on the 'how to make a geoStory' link.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Battlelore, take two...

I mentioned last week how the board game Battlelore started me thinking about readability and my dissertation. I said at the end of my post how Battlelore had got me thinking about the problem, but how it also got me thinking about the solution as well.

Battlelore comes with 8 or 9 battle scenarios. You set the board up according to the rule book, and then play the game. But the first 4-5 scenarios are ‘limited’ scenarios. They are more basic in order to teach the game in a step-by-step method. So in all actuality, you only have a handful of scenarios to play.

So the game company set up a web site where players could submit their own scenarios. Since the game is produced in Germany and France, some of the user scenarios are in a different language. I came across one of these scenarios in French, a language I don’t speak. At all.

But being a fan of Douglas Adams, I’m familiar with babelfish, software that translates text from one language into another.

The software isn’t perfect. Not anywhere nearly so. In fact, sometimes it’s fun to take a piece of text, translate it into another language, and then back into English. You’re left with all sorts of crazy stuff. For example, here is the Gettysburg Address after being translated into Korean and back.

But the software does basically what you want it to. You end up with text that is at least understandable. So I copied the instructions for the scenario into the field, hit submit, and was left with English that wasn’t even close to grammatically correct, but made sense (with a little bit of thought). I copied the translation, fixed all the errors, and resubmitted the game as an English translation.

I had just translated text from French to English, without knowing French.

To take an article in wikipedia written at a post-graduate level, and try to simplify it is a daunting task. Even more daunting is the thought of getting a machine to do it automatically. With current technology it’s not possible. But what if, like the translation software, we could get the machine to do most of the work. Then a human can come in and ‘clean things up’, just as I did with my French translation.

I think it’s our best bet to get the vast amounts of information currently in wikipedia to a larger audience. A group I work with is looking into the matter, and we’re working on software that will help facilitate the work. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Give it away...

Another article that talks about the benefits of giving content away, and finding an altertnative method to making money. Musicians, artists, authors...could all benefit from new models like this?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Copyright. Problems and solutions.

Trent Reznor gave an interesting interview over at the Herald Sun. In it he states, “It's a very odd time to be a musician on a major label, because there's so much resentment towards the record industry that it's hard to position yourself in a place with the fans where you don't look like a greedy asshole."

He goes on to say, “I've have one record left that I owe a major label, then I will never be seen in a situation like this again. If I could do what I want right now, I would put out my next album, you could download it from my site at as high a bit-rate as you want, pay $4 through PayPal.”

This interview exposes the crux of the problem that exists between artists, publishers, and fans. Whether you are a musician, an author, or a painter, there is an underlying problem that has yet to be solved. Let me illustrate it with my own personal experience.

I wrote a book a few years ago. I thought it to be a fun book, and shared it with anybody who expressed an interest. I probably gave away 20-30 electronic copies, and one printed copy. As far as I know, the printed copy was the only read—and that was because I gave it to dear ol’ mom. Most folks, when finding out I had a book to give away, weren’t interested.

Fast forward 18 months. My book was accepted by a publisher and was now in stores. The only changes that were made to the manuscript I had been handing out were a few spelling and punctuation errors. The same people who I had given free copies to were now paying $15 to buy the book. Suddenly there was an interest in my book, not because the content had changed, but because a publisher thought enough of my story to invest $50,000 in bringing it to the public. I had been ‘validated’. The fact that they were interested in it gave the book value. A value it didn’t have before.

There are millions of people who are making music, writing books, or painting pictures. How do we tell what is good? We could review all the material and decide for ourselves, but most of us have jobs. We don’t have time. The publishing industry does that job for us, and expects to be compensated for it. They are our filters (and not very good ones, but we’ll save that for another post).

The publishers and labels perform a second and equally vital service—that of distribution and marketing. I gave my book away to anybody who wanted it, but without marketing nobody wanted it (marketing is all about convincing you that you have a need). And without distribution, there was no way for me to get it to the people who might enjoy it.

Trent Renzor will be able to sell his music for $4 on PayPal, but only because he has been validated, first by a record label, and then by his fans. But equally talented musicians and artists don’t have the luxury of being validated. They can’t get $4 an album. For the most part they can’t even get folks to listen in the first place, even when they give their music away.

So to recap—the problem is that under the current model publishers and record labels are a necessary evil. We can’t do without them. But we resent them because most of our money goes to them, and not the artists.

The solution? Unfortunately this little problem hasn’t been solved yet. And you can bet that the publishers and labels will violently oppose ANY action that begins to encroach on their turf (remember back in 2005 when Google tried to scan books?)

There needs to be a way for artists who have material, and consumers who would find that material enjoyable, to get together. If you’re an artist, and I like your work, I’m willing to pay for it. I’m not willing to pay $20 to a corporation that then gives you a few quarters. But I am willing to pay you.

So… Somebody solve this problem already. We’ve already seen success in other areas. Look at digg and reddit. Thousands of stories are submitted to these sites, and most users only see the best of the best. There are certainly problems with this method but we’re moving in the right direction.

We’ll all be better off for it, with the exception of the RIAA. And at this point, not too many tears will be shed over that love lost.

Battlelore

I grew up on video games and board games. So it's no surprise that my dissertation (assuming it ever gets written, and at this point that is a big assumption), was triggered by a boardgame.

Battlelore is a very enjoyable, quazi wargame. It's based primarily in a fantasy world, but there are also historical battles you can play. It was one such battle that triggered the thought process which lead me to my dissertation topic.

After getting the game I read the rules, called my 9 year old, and we began with a historical battle-the Battle of Agincourt. I decided that along with the fun time, we would do a quick history lesson on the battle. Not knowing anything about what happened at Agincourt, I hopped online, entered the key words into google, and the first link was to wikipedia. One click later I was looking at a great article on the history of the Agincourt battle.

I had first thought that I would just have my son read the article, but I realized that double spaced, the text would be over 22 pages including footnotes. That is some pretty heavy reading for a 9 year old.

So I decided to skim the article myself, and then just explain the gist of it. However, the article was packed with data. This was no simple list of facts, it was an in-depth, complex, well written essay. I found myself needing to click on links to other articles to really understand what was being said.

I eventually prepared a brief history of the battle, explained it to my son (who was not above rolling his eyes several times during my 'lecture'), and we played the game and had a good ol' time.

But this got me thinking about the readability of wikipedia articles. Clearly my son couldn't have read and understood the article. The level at which the content was written was simply too high. Wikipedia has a lot of content (1.8 million articles), but that doesn't matter to those who can't understand the content.

I decided to try something. I went back to wikipedia and copied the article. A quick search led me to a site that gave you the readability level of text. I pasted the article into the field, hit submit, and was suprised to find the article was on the extreme end of the spectrum. The article wasn't at a highschool level, or even a college level. It was post graduate. It was on the same level as the Harvard School of Law Journal.

A quick and dirty sampling led me to conclude that most of the 'featured articles' (the articles the wiki community finds to be of high quality) were at this high level of complexity.

The aim of wikipedia is lofty. They want to provide a resource to every person on the planet, in their own language. But as things currently stand, my sons are left out. High school students are left out, to some extent. A large portion of Americans are left out.

So in the back of my head something clicked. It doesn't make sense to 'dumb down' wikipedia. But what if a copy could be made that was easier to read? Or what about several copies. One at a high school level, another at a gradeschool level. Wouldn't that make wikipedia accessible to more people?

Well, a simple wikipedia already exists, but instead of 1.8 million articles, there are only 16,000. For whatever reason, the simpler version is not gaining any traction.

So, the problem is that wikipedia is quite complex, and efforts to make a simpler wikipedia are having a hard time getting off the ground. The solution? Well, the solution lies in the same boardgame that brought the problem to my mind in the first place. I'll write more about that later.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Old Utah Theather


I have seen many a movie at this theater. The Hunt for Red October (about 6 times). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original one). The Little Mermaid (where I got to hold a girl's hand). In fact, any decent movie that came out in the late 80s, I probably saw here. It was a dollar theater, so I could afford it.

The theater closed down several few years ago. One day it was open, then it was gone. I hadn't seen a movie there for nearly 10 years.

A few months went by, and then, almost as suddenly as it closed, it was once again open. But instead of current movies it now shows classic movies.

This is a long way to say that after about a decade, I have once again attended this beautiful theater. Last night I took my two boys to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a great experience. The boys loved it, I enjoyed seeing Indy on the big screen, a good time was had by all. I'm glad to see an old theater still being put to good use.

And as long as I'm talking about my boys, the other day at dinner I asked my sons what they wanted to be when they grew up. Number 2 immediately said he wanted to be an anti-aircraft person so he could shoot down bad guys in planes. Hmmm, hope there is good money in that. My third son said he wanted to be a fireman. No surprise there. My fourth son shoveled another pile of food in his mouth (he's 3). My fifth son shoveled another pile of food on top of his head (he's 7 months).

But my first son looked thoughtful. He asked me what I was. I told him I was an 'Information Liberator".

"That's what I want to be." he said. And we all went back to shoveling food in our mouths.

It was a happy moment.