Monday, March 31, 2008

One Year and Counting

As the blogosphere grows increasingly larger and so many folks, fictional or not, find there way to posting online, it has been enjoyable being part of it.

One year ago I started this blog in support of a class I teach, and it has taken on it's own life.

Thanks to all that read here and here's to another year to come.

Friday, March 28, 2008

STEM report card in on Washington Schools

Education Week put out a special report as part of its Technology Counts 2008 report. The document called “STEM: The Push to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” is a supplement to the main report and “surveys the states to assess the status of K-12 educational technology across the nation in terms of access, use and capacity.”

It awards grades, as educational institutions are conditioned to do, based on 14 different indicators that are related to the above three areas.

According to the report, the state of Washington received a B- in Capacity (to use technology), which was better than the average C grade of the combined states.

However, the report bestowed a D+ grade on Access (to technology) and Use (of technology), giving the state an overall C- average compared to the average state score of C+.

Disappointing to be sure, and it is likely that the state will have to be punished by taking away its iPOD, television privileges (it can no longer watch “Greek”) and absolutely no prom unless it brings its scores up immediately.

Which it is apparently trying to do:

The news tribune’s Kris Sherman reports that “A new wave of up-to-date computer equipment is coming into Tacoma schools. About half of the computers in the district's elementary and middle schools will be replaced in the 2008-2009 academic year with laptop PCs on mobile carts.”

Perhaps this is the little bit of extra credit we need to nudge that Access grade up to at least a C.

Mind you, I expect better grades next year. School is important, and if this state wants to make something of itself when it gets older, it should start buckling down now. Wipe that smirk off your face when I’m talking to you, young state. Next thing you know you will be throwing out minimum math requirements testing and hanging around on some street corner.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Some Origami Notes on Paper Size


Whenever anyone picks up and starts to play around with Origami they usually don't give much thought to paper size. Traditional, craft store ready, multicolored, white sided paper is in abundance and approximately seven inch square size paper is supplied with most sets of Origami kits. For those starting out or teaching elementary students in classes of 20 to 30 this is just fine. Picking up a 100 sheet package is no big deal and not too expensive.

But there are several reasons to vary your paper size. Using several Montroll models from his Origami for the Enthusiast book, I will endeavor to illustrate.

Reason Number One: Two create different looks for the same model. Especially when putting together a display. Sometimes the class of kids want to combine their efforts into a much bigger display. Say that you are creating fish and other sea life for a hallway display. By creating different sized models of the same fish you can create a school like effect complete with younger fish.

I habitually make the Tyrannosaur, often leaving it at the table I'm sitting at, and do so with whatever paper is available whether a gum wrapper or a tablet page sized to a square. Even though I like the model on it's own, when combined with several different sizes of paper you can develop a sense of family. I have included a small red paper clip to give you an example of scale on this one.

Reason Number Two: To conquer a model. There are some models that are more difficult to complete than others, and when you graduate to some of the more difficult pieces it can get frustrating. The solution: go buy yourself a bunch of large sheets of paper to work with. Sometimes when looking at some of the models in books or online I wonder how they possibly could have folded something like what I am seeing. Often they are done using much larger paper than is readily available to the occasional folder. Go to Uwajimaya or get some online. There are 9 inch square sized sheets available at Amazon, but I would go even bigger if you can find it.

Two models that frustrated me a bit before I worked through them were this Tarantula and what I call the creepy looking baby.

Though they started from much different sized paper, the larger Tarantula helped me understand the folding instructions enough to successfully complete the smaller sized one. The smaller one is actually less messy than the larger one for it as well.

The baby is a Robert Lang model, and comes complete with diaper. I never would have successfully folded this one without the larger paper size. Additionally, I like the resulting size of the model as it is almost "doll" sized when complete.

Reason Number Three: To challenge yourself. Once you have a model down, the challenge then becomes to see how far you can miniaturize it. The smallest Tyrannosaurs above are pretty small, but I like to see if I can even go smaller. I once made some cranes and some penguins as small as I could, then stiffened the paper with a clear lacquer spray and attached them to earring backs.

Reason Number Four: So people can find them. OK, so this reason may not apply to you, but recently I left a turtle for people to find at a local park. No one found it, at least that I am aware of. Now if I had just gone with the larger paper, I think it would have been difficult to overlook. I like the smaller version better, and when using plain paper it loses a little something. But sometimes you just have to go larger.

Reason Number Five: To size correctly to your display. I chose a specific type and size of a paper for the Montroll turtle model mentioned above, so that it would fit nicely into a shadowbox display I was working on. The one pictured was an early pass at something I did on a bigger scale (meaning number of turtles, not size of paper) for my son. I like the effect the checkered paper I used gives to the end result.

There are certainly more reasons, so please provide any others that might come to mind.

Friday, March 21, 2008

FIRST Robotics Competition Today and Tomorrow



It is funny to me how you can often enter the convention center here and all seems still. As a veteran of many technology conferences and the wonder that was COMDEX (which is no longer produced, see InterOp) I always loved the excitement and activity that would spill into the streets in San Jose at San Jose McEnery Convention Center or the buzz at an Apple Developers conference or Moscone Center in San Francisco.

I am not making any comparisons here, because the scale just doesn't match. But if you want to treat yourself to a sense of excitement over technology and what fun can be had with it, step over to the Tacoma Convention Center today or tomorrow and check out the goings on at the FIRST Robotics Competition.

There is an actual buzz in the air. Sure, not thousands of people, just several hundreds high school students, their mentors, pit crew and their robots. These robots are pretty good sized too, about akin to a Costco shopping cart if it had attachments that extended, grasped, picked up and moved around objects in an obstacle course.

They line the bleachers around the caged area the course resides in, which is about the size of an EWF cage match cage. But don't think this is a destructive robot wars event. These remote controlled creation and working cooperatively to complete a randomized task faster than their opponent.

Go cheer on the locals and welcome the visitors when you get the chance. Just remember to wear your safety goggles when you are walking around the pit area.

Friday, March 21, 2008

8:00AM Pits and Machine Shop open
9:00AM Opening ceremonies
9:30AM-4:00PM Seeding matches
12:00PM-1:00PM Lunch
4:15PM Awards ceremony
6:00PM Pits and Machine Shop close

Saturday, March 22, 2008

8:00AM Pits and machine shop open
9:00AM Opening ceremonies
10:00AM-11:15AM Seeding matches
11:30AM-11:45PM Alliance Selections
12:00PM-1:00PM Lunch
1:00PM-4:15PM Final rounds
4:30PM Awards ceremony
5:00PM Pits and Machine Shop close, crates packed for shipping

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dextre Up and Running: Now What?

The Astronauts from the shuttle Endeavor delivered, installed and have now outfitted Dextre for his duties on the International Space Station. The newly arrived robotic maintenance man, with 11 foot arms and 12 feet of height, will save those astronauts from much of the routine but potentially dangerous spacewalks that they must perform.

The Canadian built robot was delivered last Wednesday and is no doubt looking forward to his first assignments.

As reported by Ed Stoddard for Rueters news service, on that very same Endeavor flight, the astronauts delivered a storage room for an "elaborate Japanese laboratory that is due to arrive during NASA's next shuttle mission in May."

And as I mentioned mid February, some University of Tokyo researchers have teamed up with members of the Japan Origami Airplane Association and are hoping to develop a paper aircraft capable of surviving the flight to the Earth once launched from the International Space Station.

Hmmmmmm. Coincidence? Maybe. In a way Dextre almost looks like a giant hand. Maybe this versatile robot could FOLD the paper airplane to fly down. Too difficult, you say?

Well look at this!!

Dartmouth robotics laboratory has done the ground work.



Someone has to do the origami folding to create the paper airplane to be flown to Earth. Perhaps Dextre is the robot for the job.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Visualize Muckety



I have seen a lot of research on web visualization and I have seen a couple of companies spring up whose product was based around using various visualization techniques to provide unique perspectives or insight. These products or services can provide decision makers with specialized tools that help interpret information and understand relationships.

Combined with Internet technologies, many displays approach the idea of overview by given dashboard configurations of symbols or distillations of large quantities of information into more easily digested representations or concepts.

When they are interactive (as they should be), they allow you to determine the path for that exploration.

I have talked about tag clouds on this blog before, and have even included recently a tag cloud widget in the sidebar. The widget does not give complete coverage of the tags I use here, but it provides a second visual example of topics that draw from a sampling of the categories I’ve created.

Recently that I have seen more usage of these topical visualization tools on the web and in particular regarding news stories. I wanted to use CNET’s use of Radial Hierarchical Networks methods for there visualization of top stories in “The Big Picture” as a live example, but unfortunately I can’t find it anymore.

However, for a fun exercise in interactive representations of how the news connects, check out www.muckety.com. It uses the same approach that CNET’s Big Picture did and reminds me of the old Persuadio maps.

Here is what Muckety has to say about itself:

Muckety is published by Muckety LLC, a company founded in 2006 by a team with years of experience in journalism, technology and online publishing.
The name Muckety derives, of course, from muckety mucks. Some follow the money. We follow the muckety, producing a daily news and information site based on online databases (which we enlarge daily), extensive research and old-fashioned journalism.

The founders/editors of the site are Laurie Bennett, Gary Jacobson and John Decker, who are all award winning journalists with expertise in graphics, photography and reporting.

Using the web site and control clicking on Laurie’s name I get a visual of her relationship to a multitude of new organizations where she acted as a reporter, editor or co-founder in one case. In the same graphic, it also provided relationship information to family as well as work.

Sadly, I found that I had no relationship to anything when I searched on my name. But as the site is updated and expanded on a continual basis, one day I may relate to something.

For a quick explanation of how to use it, www.visualcomplexity.com, an amazing site which is a great stopping place for information and examples in graphical representation explains.

After performing a search and choosing from the search results, you'll get a map that shows connections between people and organizations. To view descriptions of the relations, click anywhere on the map to activate it. When you pass your mouse over connecting lines, you'll see a popup box describing the connections. Solid lines represent current relationships; dotted lines show former relationships. You can also re-center a map around one or more players by clicking on the map background and dragging your mouse to draw a temporary box around them. The chosen boxes will be highlighted in pink.



For a puzzle to solve, use Muckety to connect how Groucho Marx and Frank Sinatra are related.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Bloggers Are Neighbors: Guest Blogger Erik Hanberg

In my class I frequently invite guest speakers, and so in that spirit I am presenting today a guest blog entry from Erik Hanberg. Erik has an excellent blog at www.erikemery.com which has a dedicated following, but thought that the topic of his latest post was fitting to the general subject matter of "Living and Working in a Virtual World". In it he discusses changes in civility as the blogosphere tightens into a closer knit community where the blogger you are conversing with is physically located in the same area.

Given that Seattle/Tacoma is considered by Scarborough Research to be one of the top blogging markets at a whopping 15%, could this be a trend for the cities that see an increase in blogging from the local populace? Let me know what you think of the guest blogger idea.
_________________________________________________________________________

When Bloggers are Neighbors

If you frequent some of the big “national” blogs out there, you will find a treasure trove of partisan attacks, blogs arguing back and forth about who took who out of context, and lots and lots of bile.

Then you look at Tacoma’s blogs. Our local corner of the blogosphere has remained relatively civil. It helps that many of the local bloggers have started with roughly the same common goal (improving Tacoma) and from a similar starting place (already liking Tacoma). Even in the comments of a single blog, readers can frequently manage to get along with a roughly civil tone.

But as the number of local blogs grows, dissent and conflict are going to grow too. Longtime readers of blogs will see that their points of view is not fully represented, and they will start their own blog to fill the void. Conflict is inevitable in the blogosphere.

Things are going to get personal, though. Criticism of how bloggers act in the real world is starting to be posted online.

Take this week’s Volcano article by Natasha, which criticizes bloggers for not supporting local businesses in real life or online (a counter-argument can be found here). And last August I criticized some bloggers for arranging a large group event at a restaurant’s opening day and then mentioning its slow service.

In a city like ours, however, we are not just bloggers we are neighbors. Exit133’s guidelines for comments contain a good piece of advice when you are thinking about criticizing a neighbor online:
Assume Community. Nearly everybody that comes to Exit133 has some sort of interest in Tacoma and where Tacoma is going. Respect others. Any comment that would get you slapped, punched, or kicked out of a drinking establishment may jeopardize your ability to comment in the future.

I tried to follow this piece of advice when I wrote my post about the meetup at Mary’s Burger Bistro last year, but the truth is that just because you assume community doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be criticized right back. There are two options for you:

1) Stay out of it. Don’t express your opinions, don’t react to others.

2) Or deal. If you can’t handle 10 people telling you that you’re an idiot, a fascist, and a troll, you probably shouldn’t be expressing your opinions on the Internet. Because it’s going to happen.

If you still want to wade into arguments with eyes wide open, here are couple things I’ve learned this year:

On the Internet, your words are not your own. Witness Joe at Izenmania, who came up with a good event but one phrase (take back the park) defined it in a way he didn’t intend, thus changing expectations for the event and frustrating him to no end. Witness Ensie, who last year was part of the Mary’s Burger Bistro meetup I criticized. She hated that I—and others—called it a “flash mob.” The term came from In-Tacoma.net but it got picked up by many bloggers who talked about the event. Ensie still doesn’t like the term because it didn’t fit with her perception of the event (as it happens, she’s right). Witness Daniel Blue, who put together a list of businesses and people he likes and “trusts.” The list was disparaged by some in the comments on Exit133 and on other blogs. I would guess that--just like “flash mob” and “take back the park”--the word “trust” triggered a response outside of Daniel’s intentions (had he listed “favorite” businesses instead, I wonder if the reaction would have been as strong). You will constantly be misunderstood and misread on the Internet, and there’s just no getting around it.

Don’t think you’re anonymous.
If you’re trying to be anonymous, you probably aren’t. Likely someone, or several someones, knows who you are.

Link. If you’re going to call someone out, you shouldn’t be vague or unclear about who you’re talking about. The narrower your focus, the better. And you should link, so that your readers can decide if you’re the one full of hot air.

Be prepared to run into people. It’s unavoidable in a place like Tacoma, so be nice when you do see someone you argued with online.

Write a lot. The more you post, the better your readers will understand where you’re coming from when you do get into an argument.

The subject of this post has been bloggers and commenters writing about each other, but many of these things would probably apply when you are sounding off on non-bloggers, too. Good luck, happy blogging, and may all your online arguments be productive and enlightening.

Erik Hanberg regularly blogs at
erikemery.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Smart Mobs in Austin and Frost Park

In 2002 Howard Rheingold, the author of The Virtual Community, published Smart Mobs – The Next Social Revolution, a book about how instant access to information would have a transformational effect on communities. In particular he focused on how diverse groups of people would meet up in particular locations and communicate as a group based on a call to order through technology. He spoke at the South Sound Technology Conference that year and I have my signed copy next to the first book he released.

He is a showman and a character, and his early work influenced my ideas of where the Internet and the Web would take us as a society.

When I read Smart Mobs I was struck by two things. The examples he gave were predominantly from outside the United States. The author pointed this out and even went so far as to say it was it was unique to see an emerging social phenomenon driven by technology to occur first in other parts of the world. Japan and Finland were at the heart of relationships and groups organizing and conversing through text messages and cell phone social circles.

I also felt as though maybe he was stretching a bit in this book, as I was not seeing much activity he attributed to emerging technology first hand. There also didn’t seem to be many examples of what he was describing coming across the usual publications or other technology outlets at that time. So he was pointing out something and as I peered out to see it, it just wasn't taking shape for me.

Here it is six years later and this week there have been plenty of examples to support his contentions. Enough so, that it made me reflect back on the book and decide to reread it.

Here are two, with one being local to Tacoma.

At the 2008 South by Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSWi) the audience launched a revolt during a keynote interview with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook by journalist Sara Lacy of Business Week. Not liking her relaxed conversational style, the crowd mounted a blistering attack on the substance of the interview and selection of questions via microblogging tool Twitter.

Instead of the story being about Facebook, it became about the journalist and the mob that went after her in their own fashion. (There were some traditional hecklers as well).

Rohit Bhargava of WebProNews describes Twitter as follows:

It is a tool that allows you to broadcast your answer to the simple question, "what are you doing?," through writing a short 140 character text message. That message is posted online where a group of individuals that are "following" you can see it. Following someone is the equivalent in Twitter language of becoming their friend of Facebook. Popular Twitterers have several thousand followers. Through this steady stream of updates, at an event like SXSW, you can watch the live pulse of the event and what people think about it real time.


Since then there has been endless analysis of the activity during the interview and not the content of the interview, with backlash toward the intellectually angry mob as well.

Locally, though not on the instant messaging side, but certainly driven in great part by online technology, the blogging community (and other community minded folks) started up on a “Take Back The ….” mission, with Frost Park at 9th and Commerce being the first location targeted for being taken back. Armed with pink cookies, kindred spirits and well oiled calendar planning through their comments section, approximately 30 or so folks claimed the concrete wall bordered park, at least during the lunch hour. They even planted a flag.

Given it is just getting to Spring, I hope the “Take Back The…” mission spreads and grows until everything has in fact been taken back.

Not necessarily a Flash Mob, but an excellent example of social organization through like minded individuals through blogs. Was anyone texting during that meet up?

Erik B of the Tacoma Urbanist has a recap with pictures and commentary from those in attendance.

Friday, March 7, 2008

TomTom vs MapQuest Printout



I spent yesterday morning having a computer speak to me. As I traveled out to Cong. Norm Dicks conference room for a SEED educational meeting, the voice from the TomTom system calmly let us know that we needed to “turn left in 600 yards”, “turn left”, “stay to the right and take the freeway”.

I sat there in the passenger seat with my MapQuest printout feeling outmatched by this system. Whereas my directions in hand gave me a sense of being in control, the talking voice just seemed so sure of itself.

Then we diverged for a moment. I gave the driver the instructions to stay right and TomTom said to turn left. I pointed to the map and said, “the building is right here at the end of 304”. The driver asked, “which is it, left or right?”

"Right" I said clutching my printout. "Left" said TomTom. The driver went right and it occurred to me in short order that we may have benefited from going left.

“Turn left in 100 yards” said TomTom.

“Maybe you should take a left”, I told the driver.

We turned left and TomTom said, “In 500 yards turn right”.

We were both on the same track, but the TomTom system with its GPS driven map display was able to update its instructions. In other words, we could have driven past the destination point by a mile and it would have started to insist that we turn the car around. I thought that the self adjustment was pretty cool. Not that we wouldn’t have gotten there. We could have turned left further down the road I was taking, but the building was off of 6th and the directions the system gave us put us on 6th.

I love my MapQuest printouts with their point to point time estimates and step by step instructions. But this systems was kicking its butt.

When we left the building it instructed us to turn left. We did. There was construction and a detour so we had to make a turn. The system adjusted and told to turn up ahead. We did. It said to make another left. We did. Back to the construction detour. Ahhhhh!!!! An infinite loop. We are still there driving in circles around the block.

OK, we’re not, but I felt good for a moment and hugged my printout.

In all, I was really impressed by the TomTom system. I talked to the driver about his experience with it, and it was pretty clear that he used it frequently and it was incredibly helpful to him in getting around. I would definitely see a strong value in owning it. I also still like to use MapQuest, as it gives me a conceptual idea of the travel distance and time before heading out the door.

The step by step instructions of the printout are no match for the voice of TomTom however, when you consider the safety of not having to peer over at the paper and find the next step in your trip.

Interestingly, the one thing I found grating about the voice (which you can turn off of course) was when it continued to give instructions when we returned to an area I was quite familiar with. It was like having that annoying backseat driver constantly telling you what to do.

“In 200 yards, turn right”.

“I don’t want to turn right and deal with the Link and the lights.”

“Turn right.”

“No”

“In 500 yards, turn left.”

“No duh.”

“You have arrived at your destination.”

“Yeah, I know, I drove.”

“Don’t talk to me that way, Andrew.”

“Open the pod bay doors, TomTom.”

“I’m sorry, Andrew, I can’t do that.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Reasoning Web?

In 1994 I presented a paper at the 2nd International WWW Conference in Chicago titled, “Publishing in the New Mass Medium: Creating Content on the Internet”. In a nutshell, I thought that the web would emerge as another mass medium along side radio, newspapers and television. I thought that this would be driven by what I called at the time “the economics of sponsorship”.

Though a bit broad and hard to find now, (I did come across some German language snippets of it recently), I think it shows that I had some idea as to what was about to happen with the explosion of the web.

I then did a poster session on the time sensitivity of web content at the Fourth Annual Conference, and with the subtlety of a carnival barker I extolled the importance of “Temporal Design”. The way we retrieve our news and information has changed, in how we retrieve it and how its delivery is structured. Think of the date sort on Google news or how online newspapers show their breaking stories off the home page and you get an idea of the effect. When I think about how poorly I described my ideas then, I suppose I could just as well been talking about time travel.

And for a really narrow topic, at the 1998 “W3C Workshop on Web Characterization” in Boston, I submitted a position paper on “Statistical Analysis and Reporting as Applied to Unique Characteristics of Streamed Media “.

Right now, I spend most of my time thinking about identity and public access to data and information about whoever you might choose to build a profile on. It is a subject I am happy to investigate and in which I am interested in pursuing as a topic to write about and explore.

But I am unsure as to what the next big change will be. If you follow evolution of the Internet and then the effect of the HTTP protocols introduction through Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web project, the changes are significant and can be distinguished along a time line. The availability of broadband, the integration of databases, the delivery of rich media and a wide/deep access to search and information can be tracked along with the companies that have risen to prominence through business models leveraging their technological introduction.

Web pages are more likely to behave like user interfaces to applications than print.

So what will be the next significant and noticeable change to occur in how we do business, socialize, entertain ourselves and pursue knowledge and information? Am asking you. What?

Richard Waters in a piece for the Financial Times relates this idea; he is suggesting that computers that can reason are now in view. It is the neural network driven, natural language processing, image recognizing, expert systems enabled service that you can ask “Where should I go on holiday?” that will create the next big disruption.

But as he says later in this analysis “Standing in the way of this grand vision, however, are some very big obstacles. This is not just a matter of technology: at a deeper level, it touches on philosophical questions about the nature of language and meaning.”

After all, In 1950, British mathematician Alan Turing guessed that "thinking computers" would arrive by 2000.

It is a very interesting bit of writing which at least takes a stab at answering my earlier question.

It also states at one point that the movement already has a name: “Web 3.0”. I’ll save my reaction to that for another time.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hotel Murano Art Featured in CNN Money

My wife spotted this article and photo piece on the Hotel Murano.

CNNMoney did the feature and had some nice comments about the city. It is one more bit of proof that Tacoma has accomplished a positive image throughout the US based on it's investment in arts, museums and tourism.

The article featured the following statement about our association with glass art.

Because Tacoma is at the center of U.S. glassmaking, Sondland, 50, and curator Tessa Papas filled the hotel with glass sculpture. There are 46 artists represented, from Seattle's Dale Chihuly to Greece's Costas Varotsos to Denmark's Vibeke Skov, whose glass Viking ships are seen here.


For those who may not have seen the article here it is.

UPDATE:
Kevin Freitas of www.kevinfreitas.net grabbed some early photos of Costas Varotsos' "Orizon" as it was revealed this morning. He has some great shots here.