Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Flying Car Has Been Grounded

It has been quite some time since my last post. I haven't missed it (blogging). I simply have been living life instead of cataloguing it for those who randomly bump into this site. For now, The Flying Car is grounded. Perhaps in the future, when the passion for the promise of technology returns, I'll dust off the car and take it out for a spin. Right now, I'm very happy with the promises of today.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Kick A** Learning Theory

I love condensed, salient content. It appeals to the Cliff Notes part of my brain. With phrases like, "kick ass", "I rule!" and "WTF?"

this Crash Course in Learning Theory post from the Creating Passionate Users blog also appeals to the Jay and Silent Bob portion of my cerebrum.

The kids at the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (COSL) will be happy to know that the work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Images from Creating Passionate Users

Monday, February 06, 2006

UnPhiltered Feeds

I’ve been using SharpReader as my RSS aggregator, and I have no complaints. It’s free, familiar, and easy to use. The aggregator is great for personal use; however, it does make it difficult to share content with individuals who are not familiar with RSS, XML and aggregators.

I’ve been looking for an easy way to present RSS feeds in a simple HTML format. After all, sending someone a single web address is easier than getting them to download an aggregator and install an OPML file.

Via Abject Learning (Brian Lamb), I found an example of a blog that updated automatically with articles as they were discovered by Google News. Unfortunately, the source code was over my head.

Today I came across FeedDigest. This site allows you to create a digest of RSS feeds that can then be exported as HTML, JavaScript, RSS, Atom, or WML/WAP. The site allows you to create up to five digests, with up to five feeds per digest for free. For a price, you can increase the number of feeds or digests. I’m cheap, so I’ll stick with the free stuff.

I uploaded feeds from five instructional technology related blogs I regularly read; Chicken’s Don’t Have Armpits, Cool Cat Teacher Blog, iterating toward openness, shelleylyn, and Teachable Moment. With a click of the mouse, FeedDigest created a single line of javascript for my digest. I copy and pasted that line into a Blogger template. The result is UnPhiltered Feeds, a blog that should automatically update with posts from each of these five other blogs. Now I have a means to consolidate and share some of the incredible content I encounter each day.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Strong Bad's Guide to Writing a Paper

A Well Thought-Out English Paper by Kyle "The Yellow Dart" Smith

(Also works for most graduate school papers)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fun with Microsoft Word (Tech Pranks)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Wanna Wiki?

Here's some nice wiki resources.

Using Wiki in Education

Free Wikispaces for K-12 educators (no advertising!)

JotSpot is another free wiki site. Actually, the free stuff is restricted to five authorized users and 20 pages, but there are plenty of free add-ons like, blog, feedback, discussion boards, calendar, directory, polls, and so on. Not a bad site to experiment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

RSS, Recommender Systems and Flatus

Today I received an email from Amazon.com with new recommendations based upon ten items I purchased or told Amazon I own. I don’t recall giving Amazon any information on my private library, but they may have received that information via secret NSA wiretaps. So what were Amazon’s top three recommendations?

  1. Rough Weather Ahead for Walter the Farting Dog

  2. Mastering APA Style: Student’s Workbook and Training Guide

  3. Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis

I initially dismissed their suggestions, but as I was moving the cursor towards the delete button, I began wondering how Amazon’s recommender system identified these three books. The first book was easy. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a book based on canine flatulence?

Last summer, I made a deal with my kids. I’d buy them a book, and if they read it and gave me a brief oral report, I’d buy them another. Madi and Sam were easy. They read the Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen, and most of the Lemony Snicket books. Haley was the tough one. She couldn’t find a book to get started. Then we found “Walter, the Farting Dog”. Thanks to Walter and his irritable bowel, Haley was able to improve her reading skills over the summer.

I’ve had the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th Edition since I started graduate school. But how did Amazon know that I really haven’t mastered APA style? Was it a lucky guess, or did they know that I’ve been using the same Mike Thompson authored, APA formatted paper as my guide for the past three years? After all, Thompson is the Dr. William Strong UCTE/LA English Teacher of the Year. I figure he knows how to format a paper.

The logic in Amazon's recommender system must have determined that anyone who would be willing to shell out serious coin on dry research texts is probably a doctoral student, hence the final recommendation. I won’t hold my breath for “Statistical Analysis: An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Univariate and Multivariate Methods” to make the Oprah Book Club list. The title alone gives most people a slight migraine. I bet the author would sell more books if he put a farting dog in the title.

The issue with any recommender system is does it broaden or narrow the exposure to relevant content? In other words, is there more to me than gaseous dogs and doctoral research? Sadly not, but there should be.

In the article, “The latest info – tailor made for you", the author talks about how RSS feeds will become the one of the primary ways people access information. While many Internet users have never heard of RSS, XML formats, or aggregators, new versions of web browsers, including Microsoft’s Windows Vista, will have RSS capabilities “baked in”. The use of RSS feeds will be as simple as book marking a Web page. Most users won’t even know they are using RSS. While RSS provides a real-time, generative method of collecting and sorting information, a question posed in this article, is similar to the one I posed about Amazon’s recommender system. Does the extent to which someone tailors their information environment reinforce their own views at the expense of exposing them to a more diverse perspective? In the search for more information, do we really just end up with farting dogs and dissertations?