Friday, February 27, 2009

A little bit of press...

As many of you know, I'm the director of Utah State University's OpenCourseWare project. We're pretty proud of what we've built, and it's always nice to get a bit of recognition.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wading into politics...again

I try to avoid politics on this blog, but every once in a while I have to.

CNN wrote a piece about Attorney General Eric Holder who called America a 'Nation of Cowards'. Why are we cowards? From the article:

""Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards," Holder declared.

"Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

"The attorney general said employees across the country "have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace," but he noted that "certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character."

"On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad," Holder said."

I agree with Holder 100 percent. I think there are topics that are 'off limits' and we hesitate to explore them. Why? Well, because if we try to explore them, we are often called racists. Consider a 'scandal' that is currently going on right now.

Sean Delonas draws comics for the New York Post. His most recent is being called not just offensive and violent, but yes...racist. You can see the comic here. Al Sharpton had this to say about it:

""The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that "Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.""

However, how many of us have seen images like this over the past eight years? Heck, there is even a web site devoted to the topic. Who is more racists, the artist comparing Obama to a monkey, or the person declaring that comparing Obama to a monkey is racism? Maybe Delonas was just doing what we've been happily doing in this country since 1776--making fun of our leaders.

Let me be very clear. I think it is very disrespectful to compare or call any sitting president (heck, any person for that matter) a monkey. I didn't find the pictures of Bush and monkeys funny, nor do I find the comic hinting at Obama funny. But if we are to move past being a 'nation of cowards', and be able to discuss "certain subjects are off limits" then we need Al Sharpton and other similar folks to stop crying racism anytime something like this occurs. How can we 'explore' these topics when everytime we try we risk "at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character."

I think the Attorney General is dead on. But until we can truly discuss these things without being called racist, nothing will change. We will all smile at each other, we will all be friendly at the office, but deep down we will constanlty worry about what we are saying. We won't be able to open up and really have the discussions that need to take place.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I'm a big fan of the musical You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. I've written about the musical before on this blog.

Usually I just listen to the music--I haven't seen the musical itself in years. But today I went to a high school rendition of it (they did a great job, nicely done) and was struck by the truthfulness of Sally Brown's monologue. It captures the struggle I deal with when I'm grading my students. Sally can say it better than I can, so...take it away Sally.

"A 'C'? A 'C'? I got a 'C' on my coat hanger sculpture? How could anyone get a 'C' in coathanger sculpture? May I ask a question? Was I judged on the piece of sculpture itself? If so, is it not true that time alone can judge a work of art? Or was I judged on my talent? If so, is it fair that I be judged on a part of my life over which I have no control? If I was judged on my effort, then I was judged unfairly, for I tried as hard as I could! Was I judged on what I had learned about this project? If so, then were not you, my teacher, also being judged on your ability to transmit your knowledge to me? Are you willing to share my 'C'? Perhaps I was being judged on the quality of coat hanger itself out of which my creation was is this not also unfair? Am I to be judged by the quality of coat hangers that are used by the dry-cleaning establishment that returns our garments? Is that not the responsibility of my parents? Should they not share my 'C'?"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cory Doctorow

I've been a fan of Cory Doctorow for some time. I think he hits the nail on the head with the recent Author's Guild/Kindle tiff.

And of course David Wiley's opinion is always worth reading.

Copyright Infringement

"I look at my photography like this. When I make an image it belongs to me. It belongs to me while I take the photo. It belongs to me while it sits in my camera. It belongs to me while I process it on my Mac. It belongs to me while I let it sit in an archive folder waiting to be uploaded to the internet.

Then I upload it to the internet and it’s like I’m taking a bird and opening my window and letting it go. Off she goes. Her song to be enjoyed by the entire world — certainly no longer mine."

Thomas Hawk

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Short Sighted

Looks like the Author's Guild is not fond of the next generation Kindle. Or more specifically, what the Kindle can do.

The goal of the Kindle is to provide every book ever written in under 60 seconds--for a price, of course. This is a lofty goal, but one we should be excited about. This device is going to get folks buying and reading books, and this is a good thing especially given the current state of the publishing industry. Books are overpriced. People aren't reading. The Kindle could infuse new life into a sagging industry.

Instead, the Author's Guild is worried about the fact that the Kindle can read books to you. That is a derivative right, separate under current law.

I can understand publishers and authors wanting to protect their territory, but it seems to me that this is a case of tripping over dollars to pick up dimes. If they think that a computer generated voice is going to be more appealing than an actor-read book, then quite frankly they need to fire the actor.

In my mind this is a case of lawyers and publishers trying to protect an old model that no longer works or fits. New technology will always force us to change our perspectives, but it's better to embrace and adapt to this new technology, rather than try to stick to the old ways.

Remember the analogy of the folks who used to deliver ice to people to stick in their ice boxes. They forgot they weren't in the ice delivery business, but in the 'keeping food cool' business. When smaller refrigerators came out, they didn't adapt.

I am very excited about the possibilities that Kindle brings, both as a consumer of books, and as a creator of books. It's a new model, and the old structures will have to adapt to survive. But that is a good thing.

Monday, February 09, 2009

And now for something completely different.

You've heard of remixes, right? Where you take an existing work and modify it from it's original form? You might add elements, take elements away. The end result is a new work based on the old one. It's most commonly done with songs, but you can do it with movies, text, etc. Here is an example:

David after the dentist.
David after the dentist remix.

And of course we all love and enjoy the movie trailer remixes. West Side Story as a horror flick, or The Shining as a romantic comedy.

But the real reason I started this post was to show you this remix, coming to finer bookstores everywhere, April 15th. What better way to celebrate getting your taxes done than by kicking back with a bit of hot cocoa, warming your feet by the fire, and reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Interesting find of the day....

An extremely interesting piece from RadioLab (a public radio program and podcast) talking about the "Obama Effect". A researcher gave subjects a questionnaire before Obama gave his inauguration speech. He found that whites scored slightly higher than blacks. After the inauguration a second group was given the test, but they were first shown the speech. The results were that the disparity between whites and blacks completely vanished.

A similar study showed a slight difference in math scores between males and females. However, before administering the same test to new subjects, the researcher told the students 'while you may have heard men normally score higher on math tests compared to females, this particular test shows no gender differences.' All differences dissapeared.

One last example they gave--researchers brought in subjects and gave them a putting (as in golf) challenge. When they presented the experiment as a 'test of athletic intelligence', they found blacks did about four strokes worse than their white counterparts. But when they presented it as a test of their 'natural athletic ability', those scores were reversed. Whites scored 4 strokes worse than their black counterparts.

In other words we learn about stereotypes in life, and even if we don't believe them, we often end up 'fulfilling' those expectations. So the next time you think to yourself, "I've never been good at math," or "My writing is not that good," knock it off. If you say it too many times, you'll start acting the part.

The audio I linked to above is about 15 minutes, but well worth your time. Thanks to Emily for pointing me to this.

One more reason...

One more reason to buy an Android (or an iPhone, you fan boys).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

What do you call this?

Look at this image of comments on this Digg article.

What exactly do you call this? Spontaneous, crowd, lyric recitation?


Monday, February 02, 2009

Work for Hire

I know what you're all thinking. You've probably heard that USU is forcing all of its employees to take a mandatory furlough. And you're worried about me. Sure I get spring break off, but I don't get paid.

But worry not. This is actually a good thing. It's a way of spreading the pain around. Instead of a few unlucky souls at USU getting kicked in the teeth, everybody at USU just gets poked in the chest.

As for me, taking time off without getting paid doesn't seem quite right. Luckily we're allowed to do 'contract work' during this time so I plan on leasing myself out to the highest bidder. If you're interested I can be bought in 1 hour chunks, and I'm willing to do anything as long as it's a) moral, and b) legal (I can actually bend a little on both of these, depending on the thrill factor).

So starting March 9th, if you need a thirty something instructional designer who is good at raking carpets, melting ice, sharpening forks, counting lego, or pressing the tilde button, give me a call.

Hurry up before my week is filled.

Bidding starts at minimum wage.