Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book Publishing.

Interesting read over at Book Oven.

"Imagine: what would happen if every publisher in the world went out of business tomorrow? If every book store closed it’s doors?

"Here’s what I think: I think we would see a flourishing of innovation and the kind of excitement the book business has not seen since the paperback was invented. These companies (sellers and publishers) aren’t all going to close their doors, but a good number might.

"Lamentable? Maybe. Or maybe this is a fabulous opportunity for something new.

"I’m optimistic. New technologies are coming along that change the economics of books: ebooks, ipods, print-on-demand, the web, and more to come yet. The readers are there: just about everyone I know loves books. The writers are there. And let’s face it, if the doom and gloom in the business is right, whatever model these companies were using hasn’t worked all that well.

"So it’s up to us — all of us who care about books — to figure out what the book business is going to look in the next decade or so."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quote of the day...

Dad: "I saw your Christmas list."

#1: "Oh yeah?"

Dad: "Yeah. I saw the first thing on your list was a 'fake eye'.

#1: "Yep."

Dad: "Uh...why do you want a fake eye?"

#1: "So I can scrunch it into my eye, and when somebody pats me on the back, I'll drop it on the floor."

Dad" "Oh. Of course."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An open letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

My kids love to tattle. We're trying to get it under control, but alas, it still happens. The other night #2 comes up and says, "Dad, #3 called President Obama a poop head!"

This came as quite a surprise to me. I don't talk politics with my kids, but even if I did, I would never call any sitting president, or president elect, a poop head. My criticism is much more eloquent than that. When I talk about politicians, I use words like knucklehead, or fanny muggin.

Anyway, my son came up and I asked him why he was calling you a poop head. I wondered if it was your foreign policy, your recent selection for cabinet positions, or perhaps your social policies. Sure enough, it is your social policy.

"I can't go to school unless I get my shots," he wailed, "and it's all president Obama's fault! He won't let me go unless I get poked!"

And thus we see the downside to being president. It is a two edged sword. When things go right, they assume you are the one to thank. And when things go wrong, you'll be to blame, even if it's not your fault.

So, good luck, and don't worry about reconsidering the immunization laws. My son is only 7, and won't be voting until you're well out of office.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If you can't beat them...

A few weeks ago I heard about a game called World of Goo. I went to their site, played the demo, and fell in love with it. That night I shelled out $15 to buy the game for my Wii.

I happened to come across the game developer's blog, and added it to my RSS feed. I noticed one of their posts reported on the piracy of their game. You see, unlike many other games, they shipped their game with no DRM. In other words, if you wanted to install it, and then give it to your friend, you could. You could install the game on 50 computers, and only 1 of you would need to pay.

So what happened? Well, just what you would expect. According to their estimates, about 90 percent of the people who were playing had pirated the game. Only 1 in 10 had purchased a legitimate copy. Despressing, right? Sort of, but there is more to this story that meets the eye.

The developer's compared their game to another similar game, Ricochet Infinity. Ricochet shipped with DMR. It was much harder to copy that game. And guess how many people pirated it? That's right. About 90 percent.

In other words, in many cases, DRM does nothing. Pirates will be pirates, whether there is DRM or not.

Now, all of that being said, on a happier note, even with 90 percent of the folks playing with a pirated copy, check this out.

That's right. Ship a game, leave off DRM, and they are the second highest selling game on Amazon right now.

I think it's time we rethink DRM, digital copyright, and patents. Because nothing makes sense anymore.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Spirit

I think a lot of people who read my blog don't take me seriously. "Why should we take you seriously?" they ask, "Your blog refers to poultry and armpits in the title".

Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I'm not serious. Deep down I'm a very serious guy. Which is why I'm here to put you in the holiday spirit. In a very serious manner. And since nothing puts you in the holiday mood quite like a holiday classic, I've got you covered.

So get yourself some hot cocoa, kick back in your bathrobe and slippers, stare at the beautiful Christmas decorations, and enjoy...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Zombie Home Evening

Tonight was family night. We stayed home, played games, and had a treat. My son John got to pick the game. The other boys wanted to watch part of a movie, but he wanted to play freeze tag.

"It's too cold to play freeze tag," I said, chuckling at my own joke (I was the only one who found it humorous).

"No, we'll play it downstairs," John said, "In the basement. We can move the chairs."

"The whole north wall is brick," I said, "If we play freeze tag, somebody will crack open their skull."

"Then we'll play it in slow motion," John replied. And he could not be swayed.

And so it went, that the entire family shuffled slowly around the basement, talking, screaming, and laughing in slow motion (slow and deep). I'm sure if anybody had peeked in our window, they would have been convinced that of a zombie outbreak. But it wasn't. It was just the family, having a bit of fun, in a safe and orderly manner.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I wrote an article a while ago that talked about groupthink on Digg, and how it was a very bad thing. Of course it was inevitable that my article made it to the front page of Digg, only to be buried by people who didn't agree with me.

Google recently rolled out a service called 'search wiki'. It allows you to manipulate your search results. You can push sites up to the top, or remove them altogether. Why they call it a wiki is beyond me, because for now, this manipulation only affects the results you see. If I push my blog to the top of the list when I search for blogs, Google will not push that link up to the top of your list. What does manipulating your own search results have to do with a wiki?

But that is not the point of this post. It worries me a little that they call it a wiki. Does this mean they will eventually use this data to give some pages a higher page ranking than others? I'm as big of a fan of 'crowds' as the next person, but the unfortunate truth is sometimes crowds get it wrong. If we turn search results into a democratic process, we're only going to get what other people are seeing. I hate this enough on Digg, please don't bring this to my search engine!

When you're looking for information you need information from all sides, not just the popular side, or even the 'agreed upon' side. One only needs to look at the entire history of science to realize that sometimes we should listen to the quack who is preaching against the norm (from Copernicus to Harry Hess), because that person just might have something of value to add to our understanding. If these people are 'voted down' or silences by the uninformed masses, it will be very bad day indeed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Behold, the power of games...

David Wiley has done it again. He's designed a course that is modeled after the very popular MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role-playing games). You can choose your character, go on quests, and 'level up'. In the end, if you've reached a high enough level, you will get an A in the course. While the idea is intriguing, there is, I believe, a crucial missing element to the course – PVP.

Educators have been trying to harness the power of games for almost as long as games have been around. They do this because people are far more interested in games than they are in the instruction the educators come up with. "If only people will study humanities as hard as they study space invaders," the instructor thinks.

But there is an aspect to instructional games that educators always seem to leave out. They seem unwilling to embrace the simple fact that one of the most important parts to a game is the competition. Think about it, when player A politely asks player B if he wants to play chess, what he is really asking is, "Do you want to witness my l33t cognitive skills as I crush you with nothing more than a rook and two pawns?"

Last night, a priest in my guild logged on to World of Warcraft (WoW). He was on for approximately three minutes before he said in the chat, "Bah, I can't quest tonight." And he logged off. I felt exactly the same way. I'm level 78, and it's been painful. I've gone on hundreds of quests, killed thousands of creatures, delivered dozens of items for NPCs who are too lazy to do it themselves. It's not that fun. So why do I do it?

Because I want to be level 80. I want to go on raids with our guild, and be the top healer in the group. I want to be better than everybody else, and I want them to see it.

This sounds shallow, but this is why most people play games. Sure, they're fun, and I have fun playing board games whether I win or lose. But deep down, we want to win. It’s a public arena where our skills are demonstrated. We want to be better than other folks. Not to rub it in their face, but it makes us feel smart, special, or whatever. Need more proof? Look at the recently introduced achievements into WoW (something X-box has been doing for years).

Achievements give you points, but those points can't be spent on anything. It's simply a way to quantify things. You get points for anything from going on quests, to telling critters you love them, to exploring every nook and cranny of the game. Sound like fun? It isn’t. You have to work for three hours tracking down every critter on the list so you can say love you. It’s not fun, but people do it. And they do it because they want to have a higher 'score' than somebody else. I'll say it again; being better than other people is driving force of most games, particularly MMORPGs.

And this is where educators fall short in their instructional game design. As educators, we want everybody to succeed. No child left behind. We have a very hard time introducing competition into education. But this is exactly the compelling nature of games. After a while, Space Invaders is the same thing, what we’re really after is leaving out high score for everyone to see it. Player-vs-player, or PVP, is a core piece to popular MMORPG games. Whether it's literally fighting or dueling other players, or struggling so your guild earns a ‘server first’ achievement, most of the players in the game are in direct or indirect competition against the players around them. It's all part of the fun.

Going back to David's class, there is the briefest of hints at competition. There are two challenges in the course. These challenges don’t reflect on your grade, but are "a matter of individual and Guild pride", but as far as I can see, that is the only thing closely related to PVP in the course/game. By the end of the course, it's very likely that everybody is going to be a level seven. Everybody is going to be the same. And where is the fun in that?

So, how can you make a course like this better? I'm not sure you can, without raising some eyebrows. But if you really wanted to make it more like an MMORPG, then you would allow students to move past level seven. Let students do extra work and get up to level 21. Level seven still give you an A, but I would be willing to bet, several students go for higher levels, just for the bragging rights. Maybe a blog post mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher education is worth 300 XP (after you’ve reached level 7). Or maybe a podcast with 500 subscribers by the end of the semester gives you 500 XP. Have activities where students can debate, and 'pwn' other class members with their l33t instructional design skills.

Human nature makes it so that we want to succeed. We want to be special, and stand apart. It is certainly a double-edged sword. It can drive us to be better, or it can make us discouraged, and give up. But it's a powerful force, and one that could lead to better instructional design, if we are willing to use it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Apparently...I'm lactating.

Corporate America thinks I'm a female. And lactating. For some reason, I was suddenly bombarded with formula coupons, free samples, and pamphlets about the benefits of breast feeding.

I love living in the information age, because if I want to see the Lord of the Rings acted out in Peeps, by golly I'm get to see it. And I actually like seeing ads that I'm interested in. When friends send me messages about board games, I see ads for board games. It beats seeing ads for Depends. But when wires get crossed, crazy stuff like this starts to happen. Maybe I'll start ordering beer, CTR rings, denture cream, baby diapers, bras, and sports cups online, just to throw off the system.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Face Made for Radio

It's a good thing I have a face made for radio, because I'm going on KVNU's Voice for the People, Thursday, November 20th, to talk about OpenCourseWare. We start at 5:40 PM MST, and will likely go until the show is over (6:00). If you want to listen in, you can do so at:

Feel free to call up and mock me mercilessly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Monopoly of Higher Education...

His awesomeness, Brian Lamb, has posted a thought provoking piece over on his blog. In it he says:

"I staked out something of a confrontational stance... that higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce when we now live in an era of unprecedented information abundance."

This is an interesting point. We live in an age where information is not only plentiful, but it's easily searcheable and accessible. It's not a question of whether or not the information is out there. You can rest assured that it is in fact out there, you just have to find it. And more and more finding it is a relatively simple matter.

So, is higher education in danger? People go to a university to obtain an education, right? To get understanding? To read and learn about things. But now that information, education, and understanding can be found on the internet. They are in direct competition with Google, are they not?

I have a dirty little secret. I do web design for a living, and I've never had a single course on web design. I taught myself everything I know from the web. I didn't need the higher education system.

Universities should be shaking in their boots, right?

Wrong. Because universities still have a monopoly. One that shows no signs of cracking. That monopoly surrounds certification. I might know everything there is about programming, history, teaching, whatever, but employers aren't interested in that. They want to see my diploma. A diploma is such a beautifully quantifiable thing. So simple.

On his blog, Brian mentions that a person asked him, "...if we live in an era of information abundance, why is the primary drive around OERs (and OCWs for that matter) the publication of more content? And what other activities around the open education movement might be an effective use of our energies? What other needs have to be met?"

I would give a hearty push for a solution to the certification problem. It's a much stickier problem and has yet to really be discussed by the openness community (at least from my perspective, which is probably a perspective from the 'outside'. But I would argue that this challenge is a much more important one, and definitely a game altering one. OCW is great, and a lot of schools have added a lot of useful content to the world. But the world is filling up with content. If we want to see a real difference, let's make it possible for people not to just find content (they can already do that with Google), but let's make it possible for them to demonstrate competency. I feel that would make a distinct difference in a lot of people's lives.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My First Ruby Code

So I've written my first bit of Ruby code. Allow me to bore you with the story.

The other day my son and I were checking out the local thrift store. The Boy came across a board game that appeared to be brand new. The cards were still wrapped in cellophane, the cardboard chits were unpunched, and it was only $1.50.

He bought the game and raced home. He punched out the bits, was excited to play when much to his chagrin, he realized that there were two decks of cards missing. The game was incomplete. He was devastated.

What is a Dad to do? Well, I hopped onto boardgamegeek, posted a question about what was in the decks in the forum, and within 3 hours, I had the answer to my question. We now knew what the other decks comprised of.

My son recreated one of the decks with a bit of cardstock and our printer. That deck was basicly a ticket system, that moved you around the board. But the other deck was a bit more tricky. There were 26 cards, divided up into four types of flowers; 8 blue, 7 orange, 6 red, and 5 green. The idea was you flip over 3 cards, and then if you turned over two or three of the same color, then you get more or less points.

Being the geek that I am, and having just read about SmallBasic, the two of us sat down and wrote a small script that figured the chances of pulling out each card, and then displayed the appropriate card. Small Basic was very simple and easy to get into, but I've been meaning to poke around Ruby for quite some time. In the end, I rewrote it in Ruby, just to say I had done it.

Ruby ended up being easier than I thought, and very clean. I'll post both scripts below, for you geeks who care about things like that. Since I'm a complete and total novice, I'd be more than interested in any feedback from 'pros' out there. Is there a simpler or more elegant way to do it?

Small Basic

num = 0
num = (num + 1)

a = Math.GetRandomNumber(100)
While (num < 4)

If (a <32)
Then TextWindow.WriteLine("Blue")
Goto start

If (a < 59) Then
Goto start

If (a < 81) Then TextWindow.WriteLine("red")
Goto start

Goto start





round = 0
while round < 3 do
number = rand(100)

if number < 32 then puts "Blue" end
if number > 31 && number < 59 then puts "Orange" end
if number > 58 && number < 82 then puts "Red" end
if number > 81 then puts "Green" end
round += 1

Friday, November 07, 2008

If you haven't seen it yet...

I may be the last person on the internets to see this, but if you haven't seen it yet, sit back, turn up the sound, and enjoy!

Patents for Sale

Looks like NASA is selling off some of their patents. The first line says, "Congratulations taxpayers! A group of patents developed on your dime by a NASA researcher, sold at public auction last week in a new effort to parlay innovative technology into commercial goods and services."

I guess this can be seen as good news. On the one hand, NASA has a little bit more money, and they can continue to do cool things. But Darryl Mitchell, a manager at NASA, says the real win is that now these technologies are in the private sector, and they will create jobs and help the economy.

My question is why not release the patents into the public domain? Free the ideas from their shackles, and let anybody play with them. Why not say, "whoever wants to take a crack at this, go ahead. Let the best company win." Patents just lock things up. A company can buy the patent, and then take their merry time doing whatever it is they want with it. Open source works with software, and now we're seeing it work with content. It also seems to be working with hardware, as a recent Wired article points out (an article that is not yet online).

So, why are we keeping these innovative ideas, ones that taxpayers have funded, locked up? Which scenario is better for taxpayers and the economy, for one (wealthy) company getting and sitting on the patent, or many different companies competing and fiddling with the ideas and innovations that the patent has locked up? I see more jobs and innovation coming from the latter.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Inside Higher Ed.

For all of you who laughed at me the other day when I mentioned Warcraft and learning in the same breath, there is a great article over at Inisde Higher Ed. that talks about using fear and humiliation as legitimate teaching aids. A few quotes:

"A 25-person raid is the same size as a class, and like a class its leader can only take it to places places that it is willing to go. Teaching, like learning to down a boss, is about helping people grow their comfort zone by getting them to spend time outside of it. The question is how to push people so that they will be ready to learn, instead of ready to tear their hair out.

"Almost immediately I could see why its members were successful — their raid leader did not pull his punches. In the middle of fight I would hear him saying things like “Xibby, don’t think I don’t see you healing melee — please do your job and focus on the tank.” At times — like when our Paladin failed repeatedly to engage Thaladred the Darkener, who responded by repeatedly blowing up our warlocks — voices were raised.

"A willingness to take risks can also be shored up by commitment and drive. Our guest leader drove my guildies nuts, but impressed me with his professionalism. Does this mean that after graduate school even generous doses of sadism seem unremarkable?"

It's a very good article, I recommend reading the entire thing.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Hardest Part

I have a confession. I hate writing. I really do. It's difficult, it is time consuming, and I spend most of the day convinced that I'm horrible at it, so why bother in the first place? There are very few redeeming aspects about it. I write because...well, I'm not sure why. I just know I get a story in my head, and it won't leave me alone until I get it out.

But as much as I dislike the writing process, the process that comes after the book is done is even worse. I am now shopping for an agent/publisher.

Agents and publishers are very nice people. I have nothing against them, at all. But the fact of the matter is that a major portion of their job is to reject people. They have to tell them that they are not interested in representing/publishing their particular story. I know this in my head, but it doesn't make the process any easier.

For those of you who have never had the lovely opportunity to send off a book to a publisher/agent, let me try to paint you a picture of how it feels.

Imagine you've just had a baby. You have carried this baby for 9 months in your womb. The process of carrying and delivering this baby was incredibly difficult. But when you hold the baby for the first time, and you see how beautiful she is, you know it's all been worth it. The pain, the suffering, the tears, the worry...all worth it.

The nurse comes in, and you hold the baby up so that she can take a good look at her. The morning light shines on your baby, and she coos for the nurse. What a precious baby! What a precious moment!

The nurse glances over and says, "Wow, that is one ugly offspring you've got there."

Yeah, that is exactly how it feels. Right in the gut. Kapow!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why Hulu misses the mark...

Hulu won me over early on, but I've come to realize that they have missed the mark. In all fairness, it's probably not Hulu, rather the suits at the networks.

There is an interesting new show on Hulu called Sons of Anarchy. I saw some ads, so I watched the pilot. Not too bad. I wanted to watch more. Then I notice that they pull down the episodes 22 days after they are put up. So right now you can watch episode 1 & 2, and then it jumps to episode 6. You're just out of luck for 3-5.

I'd really like to mee the person who made this decision, and ask them why they think it's a good idea. Because it's not. There are two outcomes in this scenario.

Outcome #1 - I go to bittorrent and download the missing episodes, and probably the rest of the episodes, just beacuse it's easy. I get to watch all of them, commercial free.

Outcome #2 - I get discouraged, tell myself I'll wait until they come out on DVD (Netflix, I never buy), and I may or may not remember to check them out. What will probably happen is I'll end up never getting around to watching them again. I won't become a fan of the show, and won't watch the Hulu version with ads that generate revenue.

Isn't there data out there that show people still buy DVDs, even if they've seen the shows on TV, or watched them on the internet? Or that even if they don't buy DVDs, doesn't the ad revenue make up for that? A recent article on wired quotes Hulu as they will "dramatically exceed initial forecasts" regarding revenue.

I am willing to watch commercials to watch TV. I'm not willing to ignore my family at a certain time, and on a certain day, to watch a program. Watching TV when it is broadcast is so 20th century. If I'm in the mood to watch something at 1:39 in the morning, then by golly, I'm going to watch it then, not at 7:30 on a Thursday.

Hulu is close to the mark, but sites like the Pirate Bay will always be there, and will always be a viable alternative, until the Networks understand that they need to give consumers what they want.

Winter is coming, nothing else to do but twitter away...

I've had a twitter account for some time now, but have just started using it. Lots of fun. If you've got one, let me know so I can follow you. If you're so inclined, you can follow me here...

You heard it here first...

The recession is over. That's right, it's officially over. Oh sure, you can wait for the Wall Street Journal to call it, but the old media is far too slow. I'm calling the event here, based on a single economic indicator.

I work with a great, albeit shrinking, group of people. Every once in a while the group likes to live high on the hog, and go down to Sam's club to buy a polish dog combo. Hot dog and soda, $1.62. Can't beat that deal.

I've been trying to lost a bit of weight over the last few months (I'm down 7 pounds and counting), so I usually pass on the meal, but I like to ride with these guys because the conversation is always so stimulating. While they are buying their combos (and after I've drunk my strawberry slim fast), I walk around the aisles, performing my 'hunter gatherer' routine. I hit every sample station in the place because...well, I have no pride.

That being said, I've noticed that the bounteous harvest has been anything less than bounteous, as of late. In fact, at the height of the stock market crash, I went there one day and there were only three sample stations set up. I had to drink a lot of water that day, and eat some grass.

However, today, that has all turned around. Sam's Club must be on the way up, because this was my hunter gatherer experience today. Behold, the fruit of my labors:

Hot cider
Chicken salad on a club cracker
Meatball dipped in alfredo
Part of a fiber one bar
Black forest ham
Chicken in BBQ sause
Ghirardelli chocolate
Diet juice
Part of a cinnamon roll

Now, you may wonder how I hope to lose weight with all that food, but remember, this comes in servings about the size of a quarter.

If Sam's Club can afford to put out a spread like this, then you can rest assured, the hard times are almost over.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Quote of the day...

The following took place on IM:

Mom: "Call us please
Dad: "Lose the phone again?"
Dad: "Calling."
Mom: "Again, please."
Dad: "Calling."
Mom: "Again."
Dad: "Calling."
Dad: "Calling again, still no luck?"
Mom: "Got it, we found it hidden in Spencer's pocket."
Mom: "No wonder we couldn't trace the sound, it kept moving."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Great News...

As far as I'm concerned, this is great news.

"Google Inc. and five major book publishers have reached an agreement that will allow the search-engine titan to make millions of in- copyright books and other written materials available online."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Closest yet...

For those who read this blog religiously, you've known every month or so I go on and on about geo-related content. Organizing content by geographic location, user generated content, linking wikipedia to locations, etc. I've been talking about it for years, but since I'm completely impotent when it comes to writing code, I've never been able to actually build anything. And never been able to convince anybody that the idea is good enough to invest time/money into it.

Well, now somebody has officially beat me to the punch. A very cool demo over at, a Utah company. It's pretty much everything I've ever talked about, and I'm excited to get a chance to play with it, once they open it up to the general public.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm a meanie...

I ran my first 5k today. However, as it turns out, USU doesn't know how to measure. It was only about a 4.25 k. My wife, who has been very consistent in her times (within 10 seconds or so), finished the race 7 minutes early. We went to Google maps, and sure enough, the race was way off. We were nowhere close to 5k.

Anyway, I discovered today that I'm a mean person. The race was hard for me because I have only run once in the past month. But I buckled down, and ran the entire, 4.25k without stopping to walk. In the final stretch, my wife was about 40 yards ahead of me, and two girls were about 30 yards behind. Well, right at the end I could hear the girls making their move. They were getting closer and closer. I picked up the pace, and so did they. By the very end, they were right behind me, but I managed to stay ahead of them, and finish in front.

It kind of felt good, but then I realized these poor girls had probably said to themselves, 'let's beat that guy in the green shirt. They had set a simple goal, and I had to go be a stinker and keep them from achieving that goal. I probably ruined their day. I really felt pretty bad about it, I could have slowed up and let them pass me.

So there you have it, revelation of the night. I'm a stinker.

But, I'm no longer angry. The final play was tonight. And I will miss it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Welcome Aboard...

Live in Utah? Got a kid going into the 9th grade? Want that kid to be part of an online, completely open High School? Want use of a free laptop for the duration of their studies?

Then the Open High School of Utah is the place for you. Applications are now being accepted.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


If anybody reading this is an online educator, or any educator for that matter, you need to stop reading this, go to Wal-Mart, buy World of Warcraft, and play it for 2 months. It's homework.

I can not believe how engaging this game is. There has to be some way to figure out how a game can take boring, meaningless tasks, and make them fun, engaging, and dare I say, educational.

Blizzard, the company that makes World of Warcraft, just came out with a patch. They updated the game, and now there is something called 'achievements'. Basically when you do something (usually something boring), you get a virtual 'star' for it. Usually you get 10 points (you can't turn those points in for anything), and a message goes out to your guild saying, 'Herman just did X'. And that's it. That is all there is to the achievements. It's nothing more than a way to record what you did.

The crazy thing is that everybody is doing them. Like mad. One achievement is to discover every area in the game. I think there are close to a thousand areas. So you hop on your little mount, and ride around the country. You just run around, trying to find all of the zones. It's mind-numbingly boring, and takes hours, but it seems like everybody in my guild is doing it. Every 10 minutes I get a message that says something like, "Magicatak just discovered Western Plaguelands!"

Many of these achievements will take weeks, if not months to do.

Maybe this whole 'student confidentiality' thing is wrong. Maybe instead of giving grades, we should give students levels, and make it public. You're at level 7 math, level 9 reading, and level 15 writing. You could have achievements like knowing your 7 times table in 8 seconds or less. We'd keep track of it on some social network, and you could proudly display all of your achievements to your, class.

Sound like a crazy idea? That is because you're still reading this, and not playing World of Warcraft, like I told you to. Go. Go and see if you can figure out how Blizzard seemed to pull off the impossible. They have got me baffled.

Monday, October 20, 2008

CMS, meet the Great Outdoors

I'm a big fan of mashups. A mashup is where you take one tool, combine or mash it up with another tool, and you're left with an altogether brand new toy to play with. I like mashups because they bring together experts in different content areas. A good example is Flickr's geotagging tool. You have people who take pictures, and you have people who love fiddling around with GPS devices. You mash these two people together, and the next thing we know we're all geotagging our photos.

It's been over a year since a post I wrote hit slashdot on the subject of linking content to location. I've been thinking about the topic for probably over 3 years. It occurred to me that a good way to visualize the system I'm proposing, is by understanding how a content management system (CMS) works.

The basic idea behind a CMS is that is solves the problem of too much data. Let's assume you have a lot of stuff, like electronic text, images, links, video, and more. You have all this stuff that you want to share with others. You could just put it all on one really big massive html page, but what if you have 10,000 items? People would have a hard time sifting through all the content to find the one thing they want to view.

Enter a CMS to save the day. With a CMS you can upload all your stuff to the system, and then choose how you want to display it. You can display information hierarchically, where content is stored in categories and sub categories. Or you could do it linearly, where people first see one topic, then move on to a more complex topic. Or you could sort it by date created, file type, keyword, etc. The beauty of a CMS is that you can have thousands of pieces of content, and then sort it by one or even all of these methods. One person can view the content by date uploaded, while another person could browse the same content from the same repository, but do it by topic.

A good example of a CMS is the site I work on, USU's OpenCourseWare site. We have thousands of pieces of content, but it's sorted by topic and by lesson, and is easily navigated.

So, how does this pertain to the geo-content idea? We just mentioned that a CMS allows you to sort information based on several methods. Now imagine that the earth itself becomes a CMS, with users access the information via their GPS enabled smart phone. This Global CMS would display information based on your location. Instead of sorting by date or file type, it sorts by where you are on the planet. If you're driving on a freeway it might display information found on wikipedia's site regarding the freeway system. It might also display information about the city/state/country you are currently in. It might display information about the flora, fauna, and wildlife in the area. It could tell you about the history of the region, or famous people who were born, or passed through this part of the world. This information would be useful and relevant because of your location, not based on something you searched for. You would find 'hidden knowledge' that you were not aware existed.

You can go out and buy a CMS. Or there are a lot of really good ones that are open-source (USU uses educommons, which is open-source). What we don't have is a system that would allow us to create and access this global CMS. We have WordPress for blogs, we have Plone for a web based CMS, but I think it's time we get ourselves a CMS capable of building a Global CMS.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A social network I'd like to see...

Last night I was working on a little outdoor project. I was trying to get them to help me, but of course, none of them would.

A neighbor girl came over in her roller blades. She's only 7 or so, and she scares me to death, because she can barely stand up in these things. She asked me what I was doing, and I told her. She proceeded to help me for about 45 minutes. Working harder than all of my boys put together.

I thought to myself, my boys must just not know how to work.

Then, today, one of my sons goes over to another neighbor's house. He spent an hour raking their leaves into a big pile. It's not that they don't know how to work, it must be something about doing something different.

So, I need a social network site that allows you to swap kids. I'll send my kids over to your place, and you send yours to mine. They will all work happily, and we'll get a lot done.

So, there you go. Somebody code that puppy. I'll see if '' is available.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ward DVD Music

A friend of mine posted a request to her blog, looking for music for their ward DVD. I wrote in her comments, but it started to get a little too link heavy, so for a cleaner version, I'm posting my suggestions here.

For a ward DVD, you can never go wrong with Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinhead bowling". Bowling and skinheads were never given such a snappy rhythm and catchy tune.

And don't get hung up on his funny name, Gogol Bordello does a great job with "Start Wearing Purple". Although this shouldn't be confused with any of the Prop 8 stuff going on in California. Ward DVDs should be apolitical.

And then of course, no ward DVD is complete without Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire', just to remind everybody of hellfire and damnation. I prefer Wall of Voodoo's version.

And if you have any ward Christmas pics, and need a good Christmas song, then make sure to include "Get behind me, Santa." by the very talented Sufjan Stevens.

And finally, if you had any ward activities surrounding the Bronze Age, and really, what good ward doesn't have a ward activity surrounding the Bronze Age, then don't pass up They Might Be Giants "Mesopotamians".

Of course, using this selection depends a lot on whether or not you want to be asked to do the ward DVD again next year...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Very interesting...

Those interested in OpenCourseWare will find Tom's post interesting. Coursefeed has hooked up Facebook and Blackboard together to provide students a way to collaborate even after the course is finished. Not surprisingly, the folks at Coursefeed are running into all sorts of privacy and proprietary issues. However, to me this is interesting for several reasons.

OpenCourseWare has none of these issues. We could set up learning environments around courses, and people could join if they wished, and leave when they want. We've wanted a social aspect to OCW for years, and this could be it.

The other interesting aspect to all of this is what happens when faculty realize they can put their content in OCW, and have all their learning tools in Facebook. Who needs an LMS when you have this setup? The natural next step seems to be to ditch the fee heavy, tech support heavy LMS, and move to what students are already using...

Friday, October 10, 2008


My problem is that I'm an idea man. I come up with ideas, but am completely powerless to do anything with my ideas. I've been pining for years about how the publishing industry is behind the times, runs on a very closed model that is harmful to everybody but themselves, and that writing can be, and in many cases, should be, a collaborative effort.

"Why doesn't somebody create a web site where people can write collaboratively, share their books, and then vote on the best book to be published? Why can't royalties be shared among authors, editors, and those who give feedback?"

Well, enter Webook. Get it? Webook? Isn't that clever? It's like We-book (we write a book), and web-book (a book on the web), all at the same time. Ha ha, zany!

Anyway, if I had sat down and designed a site that met all of the things I've been whining about, Webook would be it. You can start a project, collaborate in an open or closed environment, work on other projects, or just give feedback. Projects are voted on, and Webook already has their first published book out. And their terms of service looks pretty decent.

I can understand that many authors, especially those who have already been published, might be a little bit leery. But let me take the risk for you. I've already signed up, and posted chapter one of a book I'm working on. If you'd like to give it a try, please feel free to drop in. Or maybe you have a book that is out of print, and not doing anything? Post it!

Now, let me say up front, you may go there and find a lot wrong with the site. There is a lot of content that is very rough. It's the first draft attempted by somebody who probably has no experience with writing. But what better way to learn than through a community of similarly struggling writers. Person A may know nothing about hooks, but can write a good scene description. Person B is a hook master, but struggles with descriptions. Put the two together and they start to learn and grow. Those familiar with, know this is a healthy process, and one that should be encouraged.

So, if I've piqued your interest, sign up. And if you do, make sure to let me know, and add me as a friend.

And finally, let me leave you with a quote from the founder of Webook. One that I could not possibly agree with more.

"[Webook's] biggest challenge is to contribute to the evolution of the traditional publishing business, which is still dominated by a few large publishers who wield enormous control over the titles that reach the bookstores. While in the past decade the music, software, travel, financial, and other major sectors have shifted the power from the few to the many, publishing continues to function as an exclusive, traditional business."

I, for one, wish them good luck.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


This was breakfast at my house...If you click on the picture, you'll get to see things up close. Just don't drool on your keyboard.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quote of the day...

Dad is opening his hand-drawn birthday cards.

Dad: "Very nice! Is that a birthday cake?"

Boy # 4: "No, that is a monster eating a kids arm off. But it doesn't go down to his stomach, it goes up to his brain, ha ha!"

Dad: "Oh I see it."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Difficult Questions...

This photo shoot kind of shook me up. It is at once beautiful and haunting.

Number 18 shows the resilience of youth. It warms the soul.
Number 20 shows the face of somebody who is beginning to learn just exactly how life is, but still clings to a bit of hope.
But it's number 8 I can't stop looking at. It's number 8 that breaks my heart, makes me think.

Part of me wants to say, "See? This is why we should buys stones made in a lab". So people aren't forced to toil away their childhood, scraping at the walls of a shaft, looking for stones that are sent to 'civilized countries' so we can look pretty.

But if we do that, there will be no more demand left for these stones. And where would the miners be then? How will they feed their children if their livelihood is taken away?

I think the thing that burns me up the most is that these people are the ones wasting and wearing out their lives, they are the ones losing their childhood, and working long hours to find the stones, only to have a bunch of middlemen make all the money. From the guy who sits behind the bars and buys the stones, to the guy that gets them to the 'western world', to the jeweler down the street who then charges hundreds of dollars more to 'make his cut'. That is the part that makes me sick, and I want no part of it.

I would love to buy one of these stones, and I would love to pay full price, but I want the money to go to the person, or more likely the family, that is doing the work.

Why, in this so called 'flat world', can I not do this?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Incredible story written in 1999

Almost prophetic...

Very accurate.

Quote of the day...

Boy # 4: "Dad? If somebody doesn't have any teeth, are they a toothless wonder?"

Dad: "Uh....sure."

Boy # 4: "Ha! I knew it!"

Boy # 4 runs off.

30 seconds later.

Boy # 3: "Dad? What do you call somebody who doesn't have any teeth?"

Dad: "Uh...A toothless wonder."

Boy # 3: "Ah, shucks."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Education Has Come Full Circle

Wow, how is that for a boring and dry post title? The full circle of education? But it's something I've been thinking about, so here you go. I'll try to be brief.

Although I've spent most of my career working in some form of 'distance education', I have long said that I don't necesarrily think teaching at a distance, or using technology in education, is the best, most perfect way to teach. I have stated in the past that I think that perhaps the best education can be described as many experts teaching one person. Think of it as the 'royalty method'. Imagine a prince being taught warfare by the king's general, and politics by the king's adviser, and foreign languages by people from that country. It's a great way to learn, but quite expensive, which is why hundreds of years ago, only royalty or the very rich could afford it.

The education for the common person, then, came in what I call the 'apprenticeship method'. This method usually involved one expert teaching one student. Think of a blacksmith teaching a young boy. The boy learns at the master's feet for 7 years or so, and then goes on and can do his own thing.

But while this may be an effective method, it's not efficient. So the solution to this problem is for that one expert to teach many apprentices. This method then morphed into the 'classroom method', which is the idea of one expert teaching many students - the antithesis of the royalty method. This method is not as effective, but much more practical. One happy side effect of this method is now if you're stuck on a particular concept or problem, you have friends to ask. Of course the reason you may be forced to ask friends is because the expert is busy dealing with other students, but still...

This was pretty much the state of things leading up to the late 90s. Then this fascinating thing called the internet came along. And suddenly educators found they could magnify this classroom method to the nth degree. Instead of teaching dozens of students (hundreds if you're in college), suddenly educators could theoretically teach many, many more. A teacher could create a site that suddenly allows content to be broadcast to tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Teachers have incredible reach. It's incredibly efficient, but do we lose out on effectiveness?

Well, just as we had a happy side effect in the classroom method, we find another happy side effect from the internet. Guess what? The internet has access to thousands of learners, but in turn, those learners now have access to thousands of teachers, and tens of thousands of learners. We're right back to the royalty method. I can learn anthropology at my university, but now I can also learn it from MIT, USU, wikipedia, and a number of other sources. I'm no longer limited by the information my teacher has, I have access to teachers and learners from all over the world.

Nowhere is this happy side effect more beautifully illustrated than in the open educational resources movement. Things like OpenCourseWare, Connexions, OER Commons, MERLOT, iTunes U, wikibooks, wikieducator, open textbooks, Wikipedia, and so much more. You now have many different experts, novices, and learners coming together to shape information. These resources give you access to numerous experts, something that was available only to royalty in days gone by.

We've come full circle, but seem to have the best of all worlds. I have access to hundreds of experts, thousands of other students, and together we can learn from those who came before us, and create additional learning for those that will come after us. It's an exciting time to be an educator.

My congratulations for those that made it all the way through this post. :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Styles...

I've been reworking The Super Trio. I initially wrote it as a chapter book. The final word count came in at about 13,000 words, roughly 60 pages, double spaced. But it just didn't feel right. I think the storyline was too complex for such a young reader, and the characters were acting a little more mature than they should. So I decided to go back, raise the kids ages, add more depth to the story line, and go from there.

I've been quite please with how it's turning out, so far. I'm currently at about 20,000 words, and I still have about 9,000 from the first book to include. And still more storyline to cover. I'll wager it will be about the same size as my Headlights books, around 60,000 words.

However, this time around, I've been writing it different. With Chickens and Bullies, I would write a chapter, and then let it sit. I'd go back and rework it a few days later, and then maybe even a third time. Then I'd send it to my wonderful sister-in-law who would do a crack job at fixing all my errors.

It was common for me to spend 3-4 weeks per chapter. But each chapter was pretty polished before I went on to the next.

With this book I have just been flying through the story. I've been writing for maybe 10 days, and already have nearly 80 pages. But it's a really rough 80 pages. I'm going back and forth trying to decide if I should stop, go back and polish, or if I should just plow ahead. It's kind of nice to feel like I'm making good headway.

Anyway, if any of you out there have a particular writing style style that matches either of these, or even something entirely different, I'd be very interested in hearing about it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Google Knol

I've written before about Google and their knol project. As a quick recap, the basic 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 has information about the author. Wikipedia allows complete and total anonymity. This allows you to judge the validity of the article based on who wrote it.

It appears there are different levels of editing allowed. An author can either keep all editing only to authors, or they can open it up to 'suggestions' (where people suggest changes, and the authors decide if they want to keep it), or they can just open it right up for anybody to edit.

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

I wrote a blog post some time ago on the lunar phases. I actually get quite a bit of traffic to my site from people doing a search on how to tell if the moon is waxing or waning. So, I took that blog post, turned it into a mini article, and created my first knol. You can see it here. And of course, it's wide open, so if you see any errors, feel free to correct.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm an angry, angry man.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Newman

One of 12.

If I had to pick my top 5 movies, I don't know what they would all be, but I'm pretty sure that 12 Angry men would be on that list. I've seen it probably 20 times in my life. Henry Fonda is fantastic. In fact, every person on the list is perfect for the roll. All be three minutes of the film takes place in one small room. But in spite of no scenery change, the movie draws you in and you are compelled to watch from start to finish.

So, when I heard that our community theatre was putting on the production, I couldn't help but try out. I've never been in a play before in my life (I may have been a tree in elementary school, I can't recall, probably I've repressed any memory). But I would have hated myself to pass up the opportunity.

So, to make a long story short, I tried out, and they gave me the 11th spot. For those that have watched the show, I'm the foreigner. So not only do I have to remember my lines, and remember when to say my lines, and say them with feeling, I have to add on an accent to boot. But, it should be fun.

Anyway, the play starts October 3rd (the same day as the USU BYU game, I'll REALLY be angry that night, for missing it), and runs through the 25th. If you feel so inclined, drop on by, it should be fun. And if you don't come to the play, you should at least check out the movie. It's a keeper.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The spiral jetty...

One of the benefits of doing homeschool is that we're pretty open when it comes to field trips. We can do whatever we want, when we want. So the other day I e-mailed my oldest son and said, "If you can tell me what the spiral jetty is, who build it, and how to get there, we'll go there on Saturday."

He takes after me, so within just a few minutes after reading my e-mail, he had replied with the answer to all three, including turn by turn direction from google maps. And yes, if you're wondering, our homeschool does allow the use of wikipedia. :)

Anyway, I was surprised to find out my wife had never been. We'd been out there a few years ago, but I think she was pregnant and passed up on the trip.

I don't think Sue was terribly excited about the trip, but she was a trooper. When she found out that much of the road was going to be unpaved, and a good portion of the road was quite rocky, I think she got less and less enthused. However, when we got there, the wonder and strangeness of the environment took over, and we all were really pleased that we went, salty shoes not withstanding.

We found three geocaches, and also saw a guy making a movie. He was dressed in a suit made out of mirrors, which was quite bizarre. He said we could take his picture but said we couldn't post it anywhere,'ll have to take my word for it.

Anyway, if you've never been, you should go. It really feels like you're on a different planet. Below are the obligatory pics.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I got a letter today from a total stranger. It didn't surprise me because I get a letter like this probably once or twice a week. It reads:

Dear Sirs,
Iam very in terested to get your open course ware, then I will need a credit, please make me know about it. how it works.
[name withheld]

The name is foreign, and to me sound African. I hear from a lot of people telling me how much they appreciate the material we have on our site, People want credit, and I get probably 30-40 requests a year for it. It seems like if we could somehow easily offer credit or a certificate, OpenCourseWare could become sustainable. We're never going to find a lot of people in Africa to pay full tuition, but if there was some alternative means of accreditation, it seems like as the word got out, it is not inconceivable that we'd at least be able to bring in enough to keep the servers online. As it now stands, the future of the site is in question.

There was a lot of fear in the beginning that if we gave away our content, nobody would want to come to our university. The exact opposite is the case. We gave away our content, and now we have more interest in our school than ever before. We just don't have a model in place to deal with the new demand.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shameless plug...

The posting has begun. There are now two chapters of Chickens in the Headlights up over at my other site, I'm posting one a week, so drop by and listen in. For those who haven't read my book, I think you'll like it. For those that have read the book, you really should listen to the audio book, David Walker does a fantastic job narrating the book.

Anyway, if you feel so inclined, head on over and listen in.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Turns out, I'm a minimalist.

I've decided I have too much crap. Way too much crap. The idea occurred to me on my last trip to Bear Lake. We were having a family reunion, and since the water has fallen it's a bit of a walk from the place we were staying, to the beach.

But still, it's just a trip to the beach, you don't need that much stuff, right?


All of my cousins and uncles and aunts had to fill cars of stuff, just to get down to the beach. We couldn't carry it because of all our stuff. We had to take chairs, and food, and water, and sun screen, and toys for the kids, and an awning for shade, and towels, books, plates for the food, cups for the water, and on and on and on. It blew my mind. I got to thinking about it and I realized all I really needed was a towel (Douglas Adams was right), and a book. And even the book was optional.

We carried all this stuff down and all it did was get in the way. I noticed the kids didn't really play with all the sand toys we brought. Sure, every once in a while they would, but for the most part they were just playing in the water. I think we spent more time as adults chasing down toys that were blowing or floating away than the kids ever spent on the toy.

The food got sandy, the awning blew over, the water was warm, the cups got scattered...It was silly.

You know, when we got rid of our second car, it was really hard for about 10 days. I kept being put out that I couldn't just up and go somewhere, even if Sue had the car. And now I don't give it a second thought. I bike more, I walk more, I take the bus. We just don't need it. We're saving money, the environment, and I'm more healthy. I think the concept of less is more is true in many different areas.

I've decided that there is a high cost when you buy something, no matter what the price is. I want to simplify, but first I need to convince the family it's in our best interest to do so.

I guess I'll start with my stuff. I have held on to a lot of things that I just don't need. The DI is about to get a whole pile of stuff. If you're willing to pay the price, feel free to wander on over and pick some of it up.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Behold, the power of blogs...

A great, great story out of Provo, Utah. To summarize, girl delivers pizza to senate majority leader, Curt Bramble. Bramble turns out to be a weenie. Girl blogs about it. The history.

KSL Nightside picks it up. Then Then the Tribune (who wins hands down the best picture of the whole event). Then it goes national with Fark, the Daily Kos, and even wikipedia (scroll down to the PizzaGate section).

Is there any question in anybody's mind that the internet is a good thing? That is gives a voice to the people who have long been without one? This isn't about bringing down a politician. It's about calling out bad behavior when you see it.

In the past we've been able to do things like write a letter to the editor, but that form of communication is beholden to the big media outlets. We can only share our thoughts if they deem them worth. Blogging gives a voice to people in a way that has never before been available.

What a great, great story, and I hope that it has a David and Goliath ending. I hope in the end, Mr. Bramble gets to return to his CPA career, where he can happily tell people that checks are as good as cash. There are a lot of good men and women in our state, surely we can find better.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pace Yourself...

There is a saying that goes something like, "Tis better to aim for the stars and miss, than aim for a manure pile and hit."

I disagree.

In all my 35 years, I've never liked running. In fact, I've hated it. Why do I hate it? Because I'm no good! Here is a secret. If you're sitting on the couch, and you decide that you want to get up and run a few miles, it's not going to happen. You'll crap out by the end of the first block.

When I can't even run around the block I feel like a loser. So why would I want to get off the couch and run when the end result is that I feel like a loser? I'd much rather sit on the couch and feel like a winner (nobody is as good at sitting on the couch as I am). When I aim for the stars and miss, my self esteem is shot.

But for the past three weeks I've been doing the C25k program. Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a jog blog. But the nice thing about this program is that it starts ridiculously easy. For example, the first week I was never running for more than 60 seconds. That is cake! The next week I ran for 90 seconds, and this week, 3 minutes. I've always been a bit winded, but never in pain. And since I'm aiming for the manure pile, and not the stars, by golly I feel good about myself. I am hitting my goal every time. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can hit that manure pile like I can. *pats back with a manure covered hand*.

So, don't buy into the stary eyed hype. Did you know that space (where stars live) is a cold and barren place? The Manure pile is nice and warm. Because the manure is fresh.

Come my friends. Come join me in the manure pile.

Image courtesy of Baby Dinosaur.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Don't know that I've ever heard this story, but it rings true.

I think there will always be a mix of natural talent and work, but talent will never make up for a good work ethic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


If you had asked me last night what I thought of running, I would have spat. Then I would have shaken my fist in the air, and then just for good measure, I would have spat a second time. And if I had gotten spittle on you I wouldn't have apologized, because, after all, you were the one to bring up the topic.

However, my wife has been running for a few months now. In fact, she just ran a 5k out to the American West Heritage Center (who is that family on their site?!). It was fun to watch her, and she has said she has been having fun in the morning. She sent me this site which basically tells you how to go from the couch (what a lovely place to be), to running a 5 k in just 9 weeks.

I was unconvinced, but thought I'd give it a go. I downloaded a podcast that tells you when you should be running and walking, I woke up this morning at 6:45, and we headed out.

And it was cake.

I mean, come on. First you walk 5 minutes. Then you run for 60 seconds. I run that long trying to chase down one of my kids to give him his what have for. Then you walk for 90 seconds, and repeat. You only do this for a total of 20 minutes.

My legs are a bit sore, but you only do this 3 times a week. I actually enjoyed it. I'm going to give it a shot again on Friday, and then try the next week on the schedule.

Who knows, maybe I'll try a 5k before this is all over. But if not...I'm also fine with going back to the couch. The couch is such a nice place to be. You can sit on it. You can sleep on it. You can even eat on it, if nobody is watching.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quote of the day...

The setting for this quote is important. We were sitting in church, and it was the quietest part of church. Nobody is talking. Everybody is lost in their thoughts. They are thinking about the meaning of life, their relationship with a higher power. Complete silences hangs over the meeting house like heavy drapes. Then my son shatters this peaceful moment for everybody...

Jared: "Hey Isaac! Pull my finger!"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Scout Quote of the day...

Scout 1: "Did anybody bring face cards?"
Scout 2: "Keegan did, but they're all nines."

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The final chapter of The Super Trio is up. You can now listen to the entire book at

I've had a lot of fun doing this, even though my reading skills leave a lot to be desired. If you know of a little person, between the ages of 5 and 12, please send them my way. The book is free. There are no ads. It's just a whole lot of fun.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Scout Quote of the day...

Scout: "You don't look like an American."
Camp Staff: "But I am an American."
Scout: "You look like you could be a French Canadian with a tan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Scout Quote of the day...

I just got back from scout camp, so the next three quotes of the day are in honor of my blessed time up in the woods with a fine, fun, and wonderful group of heathens.


Scout Master: Go brush your teeth.
Scout: I can't brush my teeth. I don't know where the bathroom is. That is why I have been pooping in the bushes.
Assistant Scout Master: Ha ha're joking, right?
Scout: No, I had to poop in the bushes. There was corn in it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Good News!

I've received permission from my publisher to 'podcast' at least part of my first book, Chickens in the Headlights. I'm very excited. I am hoping that I will be able to post the entire book. I wrote my first book with two goals in mind. First, I wanted to share my book/experience with the entire world. Second, I wanted to make gobs of money.

Well, I didn't make gobs of money, but that's ok. I've realized that it was the first goal that is the more important one. And I hope that this announcement is a step in the right direction. Anybody will be able to come to my site, listen to the book, and share the chapters with their friends.

So, I will likely start after The Super Trio is complete (another few weeks), around when school starts back up. So, if you want to listen in, drop by

See you there!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


The beauty of technology is it allows for levels of specialization never before seen. For example, on the way to work I listened to a 'program' about boardgames. Not just any boardgames, but wargames, in particular. That's right, there are a couple of guys that do a very nice podcast about wargames, and I like to listen to it.

This program would never make it on regular radio, but with the broad distribution models now available to anybody with a mic and connection, we're seeing specialization like never before.

That being said, it's funny when you see a program about somebody else's interest, when you have none. Today I took my son out to eat, and they had Animal Planet playing in the background. I don't know what program it was, but animal planet is an example of specialization on TV. You'd never see these programs on mainstream television, but on a cable network that doesn't need to attract a large number of viewers, they get away with it.

This particular program was about...wait, let me present it like they presented it.

This is a serious situation! We have a black wolf, - an old black wolf - with matted hair. This matted hair can lead to a life threatening skin condition! We must hunt her down (with a tranquilizer dart), bring her back to the office, and give her a haircut! It's so intense! If we give her too high of a tranquilizer dose SHE MIGHT DIE! But if we don't give her enough, SHE MIGHT WAKE UP ON THE BARBER'S TABLE AND MAUL US! Think of the tension! Think of the anxiety!

In the end, they couldn't get the dose right, they decided the wolf had suffered some pretty severe stress, and so they trashed the idea. If I was writing the tagline in the TV guide, it would go something like this.

Vets think about giving a wolf a haircut, then change their minds.

To me, this isn't riveting television in any stretch of the imagination. But to's programming at it's best. The people who watch and enjoy this will also likely enjoy Greatest American Dog, which is exactly like American Idol, but you're voting on who has the nicest dog.

I'll stick to my podcasts, thank you.

Quote of the day...

Dad: "Good morning sweet pea."

Jared: "Good morning sweet poop."

Dad: "What?"

Jared: "You said sweet pee, so I said sweet poop."

Monday, July 07, 2008


The beauty of the internet is that when you write about things you're interested in, you get to meet other people interested in the same things. A few days ago I wrote a few thoughts about geocontent. deprimer commented on my article and pointed me toward Socialight.

Socialight is probably the closest thing yet to what I've been writing and talking about for years. It's a site that allows you to easily link content to a specific geographic location. Within 3 minutes of arriving on the site, I had an account, and had created my first 'sticky'. A sticky is a way to say, "Hey, this content is useful to this location."

There are several things Socialight is doing right. You can mark information public or private. It's very simple and intuitive to use. There are 'channels', which allow you to create or find stickys related to a certain topic. And of course there is the social side built into the site, you can follow other people's stickys or channels, rate stickys, and tag them.

I've just played with the web side of Socialight, but they have a JAVA and WAP version that apparently works on almost any phone.

As far as what Socialight might be able to improve upon...Currently you can only add text and images. I'd love to be able to add audio, video, or a link to relevant content already on the web. I know that there will be some issues involved with bandwidth trying to pull down video over a cell phone, but ultimately this is the goal. I also wonder if there might be a way to sync up stickys before you leave on a trip. You could pull down the audio and video on your broadband connection, and then sync them up with your cell phone.

I'd also love to see Socialight automatically sync up all of the wikipedia articles that have GPS data already built in. This would probably be a time/effort intensive project up front, but once completed, would prove invaluable. Many articles already have GPS coordinates or street addresses, so it would merely be a matter of downloading wikipedia, stripping out all the articles that don't have this information, and slapping them all up on the map. Of course, there are some articles that don't have GPS data that would still be useful to link up. The article on George Washington, for example, could be linked to the place he was born, where he is buried, where he lived, etc.

And while I mentioned the site was very easy to use, and intuitive, I did find there were a few user interface issues that seemed a bit clunky, but they are almost not worth mentioning.

Finally, I think there is one other thing I'd like to see, but I'm not quite sure how best to describe it. I think Socialight is a great step toward seeing geocontent really take off, but it needs something more. As I've thought about what that more is, I asked myself why I'm not anxious to go and add a bunch of stickys. Finally, I have a site that does just what I've wanted a site to do, so why am I not online creating a bunch of geocontent?

I think the answer lies in ownership. When I create a web site, I own the content. I know that I can take my files from one hosting service to another. I know that if Bluehost goes down, I've got the files and can put it up somewhere else. While I may put my pictures on Flickr, I've also got them on my hard drive, and can put them up on Panaramio, or Picassa online. For me personally, when I create these geocontent items, I want to keep them. I want to be able to put them on a disk and give to my kids, or friends. I want to be able to use them in one program or another, just like a .html file can be opened with dreamweaver, a browser, or even notepad.

Maybe that is what I want, is a file with an extension that can be read by Socialight, by an application on my desktop, or on my phone. While I will very likely use programs like Socialight to share my geocontent, for me I also want to have a backup just in case. Because I feel like a lot of the content I will be creating will be something I'll want to pass down to my kids. And to just put them up on a website doesn't seem secure enough. If I interview my father about the town where he grew up, I don't want that information lost.

And if the platform is 'open', meaning people can take and tweak what can be done, then you start to get a whole slew of really cool applications start to evolve.

I don't want to end on a negative note. I think Socialight is very slick, and you really should go check it out. Add firemeboy to your friends list, and let me know if you set up an account. I'm looking forward to the many cool things that are going to happen as we link up content and location.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Quote of the day...

Steven: "I can't wait until I'm 16."

Dad: "Why is that?"

Steven: "Because then I'll have a pop belly."

Dad: "What?"

Steven: "Yeah, then I'll have a pop belly, and have energy if I miss a breakfast."

Friday, July 04, 2008


The problem with the internet is that any whacko with an connection gets to throw out his/her opinion, however wrong it may be. The internet's saving grace is that other whackoes can point out just how wrong the first whacko is.

Charlie Barratt wrote an article over at Games Radar in which he points out that wikipedia is nothing more than a haven for nerds. Sure, there may be millions of articles, but they are all about nerdy things. Wikipedia lacks real meat.

Well, Mr. Barratt is either completley oblivlious, or just likes to poke fun. In the very first 'example', he points out that the Call of Duty video game has more words than the entry for World War II. Ha ha, very funny, but does he have any idea that Wikipedia has length guidelines? There are hundreds, if not thousands of articles related to World War II, Barratt just didn't bother to find that out. He combines the articles for all of the Call of Duty video games, but doesn't bother adding up the hundreds of articles for World War II.

Wikipedia seems to be everybody's favorite whipping boy, but rarely do folks stop to take a good look at just how remarkable a resource and phenomenon it is.

Think Wikipedia is a second rate web site? Go ahead, try to write an article and get it to featured status. It's probably easier to write a dissertation (thought I can't say for sure, since I've never done either).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Making Strides

It's been almost one year to the day since I posted my article on about why web 2.0 wasn't enough, and how geocontent might just well be the next big thing.

I've yet to change my opinion.

During the past year I have seen many strides taken by many companies, in the effort to link content to location. Google is interested, Yahoo is interested. We all know the latest iPhone will have GPS. It is no longer a question of will this happen, but when will it happen. And who will be the big winner?

I've noticed that there are several companies trying to get their foot in the geocontent arena by hopping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon. Take Loopt, for example, or ByNotes. Loopt says they are connecting people and places. ByNotes looks to be a twitter/blog/GPS mashup. But these companies are working on geo 2.0 before geo 1.0 has been built.

Look at how the internet came to be. First there was nothing. Then there was a little bit of content. Then there was a boat load of content. Then there was so much content we couldn't wade through it all. At that point, Web 2.0 suddenly makes sense. We now need social networks, other humans, to help us sift through the billions of blogs to find the really good stuff (think reddit, Digg, etc.).

But the geocontent arena hasn't hit this critical mass. We don't have massive amounts of really good content yet. We don't have a way for people to create interesting content around locations. Or even tie exisiting content to locations. Until this happens, geocontent 2.0 will likely take a back seat as a sparkly bobble. Something fun to look at, but not as important.

It is my prediction that somebody, somewhere will come up with a very slick and easy way to tie content to a location. It will need to be easy to do with a phone, or at a desktop. It will need to be easy to access from a phone, or at a desktop. Once this happens, prepare to see an explosion of all sorts of wickedly cool apps.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The power of a good documentary...

A documentary is good if it makes you think, or increases your interest in a certain topic. A good documentary is anything but boring. Take Riding Giants, for example. I've never had an interest in surfing, but after watching that movie I was ready to ditch my job, buy a board, and move to Hawaii.

I didn't.

Anyway, last night I watched a documentary called Spellbound. It's not very new, and the subject matter sounds...boring. It's basically a documentary about 8 children who were in the 1999 National Spelling Bee.

It's a great show, and while I have always hated spelling bees, and can't spell to save my life, the show was incredibly intense. Each time one of these kids got up to spell I found myself gripping my pillow (I was in bed at the time), hoping they survived to the next round.

I think the most endearing kid is the boy who starts the movie. He is trying to spell 'banns'. The anguish on his face, his attempts at spelling it...priceless.

Anyway, if you're looking for a good documentary, I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fidelity Realty Sucks

If you live in Utah, and think you might want to get your home listed on the MLS but don't want to hire a Realtor, stay far, far away from Fidelity Realty. They stinketh.

They took almost a week to get my home listed, and then when they did list it, it was $10,000 more than I had told them. No wonder I wasn't getting calls. Because of their snail's pace, I missed memorial day weekend traffic.

Then last week when I tried to cancel I was promised it would be down within 24 hours. It is now 6 days later, and I'm still listed with them. I can't get it up with another Realtor because you can't have a double listing. I have been strung along, and given false promises. I'm at the point now where they won't return my calls.

So, there you go. If you're thinking of listing your home on the MLS, if you come across Fidelity Realty, beat them with a 10 foot pole for me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quote of the day...

Dad: "Come on Spencer, get out."

Spencer: "In a second!"

Dad: "You've been in there for 45 minutes, Steven has to go."

"Spencer: "I'm trying!"

Dad: "New motto for our house, If IT's not coming out, then you come out."

Spencer: "DAD!"


I'm thinking that motto would look pretty good on a cross stitch, hanging over the toilet.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cranky Old Freaks...

It is an older person's right to be cranky. They've lived their life, they put up with crap, and now they get to kick back on a porch somewhere, wave their gnarled cane, and mutter. It's a circle of life kind of thing. I fully support old people being cranky.

However, here in Logan we have a whole mess of 'snow birds' living in USU Housing. These snow birds are far more cranky than they need to be, and right now I'm thinking they should all pack their bags and just go home. Let me tell you two stories, both of them true, both happened to me and my wife.

We used to live in the trailer park on USU's campus. My oldest son Spencer was 8 months old at the time. We'd gone over to do a bit of research in the computer lab. The married student computer lab. Where married students go, often with their small children. There were a bunch of these snow birds in the room, and my son Spencer was making gurgling noises. He wasn't crying, he wasn't yelling, he was making baby noises. An old woman suddenly got up, walked over to my wife, and said, "I'm sorry, all of us here in this room have already raised our children, and we don't really want to have to listen to yours".

No, I kid you not, that is exactly what she said. I wanted to smack her, but refrained.

Fast forward to yesterday. My wife is on the bus with our kids, and is holding our 18 month old son. He's on the bus, he's seeing new things out the window so he is pointing and 'talking' to my wife. He is not crying, he is not screaming, but he is also not talking in a hushed whisper.

Well, at one stop, an oranged-hair snowbird gets up to get off the bus. She walks over to my wife and puts her face right into my son's face. My wife thought she was going to make cute goo goo noises at him.

Instead she screams right into his face. That's right, she screams at him. No words, just a cranky, brainless bellow. Then she throws my wife a dirty look, and gets off the bus.

I tell you what, in my youth I was able to refrain. But I think now I'm old enough, and cranky enough, to start slapping.

So, if you're a snowbird, living in Logan, watch out. Some of us locals are cranky too.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I am in a small writers group here in Logan, Utah. It's made up primarily of published authors, but a few that have not been published, but their work is very good.

The other day, as it turned out, the only people to show up for the group was me and Amber Smith, who has not yet been published. She is a great writer, and has 4-5 books finished. She is diligently looking for somebody to publish her books. She seemed a bit discouraged, and I thought, "You know, if this was a movie, this would be the part where she has reached the end of her rope, she gives up, and then she gets a letter from some publisher wanting to sign her up.

But that only happens in the movies, right? Well, the next day I get an e-mail from Amber. She had just received a letter from Cedar Fort who will be publishing her book, The Priestess Prophecy. She has announced it on her blog.

So, a huge congratulations goes out to Amber, and good luck!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Quote of the day...

The other day I woke up to this lovely exchange.

Sue: "Are you listening to me?"

Jared: "Yes."

Sue: "We do not point our naked bums at our brothers, do you understand?"

I'm a sucker for a good mashup...

Web 2.0 Vs. LMS

Great discussion going on over at the Chronicle of Higher Education over the LMS vs. Web 2.0 debate. The comments are what makes it interesting. A few highlights:

"Why should we, #4, “adapt to the learning styles of all the students”? Some “learning styles” are not very conducive nor adaptive to learning some kinds of things, concepts, skills, and ideas. Medical and Law Schools do not “adapt to the learning styles” of all the students. And the Courts those law students will have to practice in will certainly not so adapt.

Of course, if the job of most undergraduate colleges, especially Liberal Arts, and the like, is to warehouse late teens and young adults for four to six years, then we have to make them happy so as to promote “retention”. But some how, I dont think Wal-Mart or MacDonalds are going to “adapt to their learning styles” any more than the Courts are."


"Students will abandon monolithic LMSs? Yes, in spirit they will, but as long as institutions are granting the credits and degrees, students [as always] will have to go with the flow."


"I agree with John Thompson — it is not LMS vs Web2.0 that is the central issue. Unlike Matt (#4) who apparently sees the value of an LMS as something that “puts it all together”, I think the days of the cookie-cutter, monolithic LMS are limited. Why should we rely on, or wait for, a company like Blackboard to decide what functionality or tools to build in to their “product”."


Comparing traditional higher education and web 2.0 is like comparing apples and red.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pray the end is near...

Good news on the diamond front. Maybe finally the cartel will fall.

"Diamonds are a con, pure and simple. The topic is vast, so we won't discuss worker exploitation or for that matter "blood diamonds" used to finance African wars. Instead I'll focus on whether diamonds are worth the exorbitant sums charged for them. Answer: Of course not. Prices are kept high by a cynical cartel that preys on vanity and stupidity." -The Straight Dope

Good riddance.