Thoughts and Insights from the Wired World

http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/magazine/2013/04/anniversary-nav3.jpg

Many years ago (I realize now it is 20 years, back in 1993), I saw a brand-new, start-up magazine on a newstand one day that seemed vaguely interesting to me for reasons I did not fathom and so, I subscribed for a year. I had no idea what in the world they were talking about in the pages of this magazine, but it seemed intriguing.

So, I kept reading Wired magazine.

One article that stuck with me was a piece about how this thing called the Web was going to change people’s lives and how a tool called Mosaic — a web browser — was going to shake things up. I had only vague notions of the Internet, thanks to a friend’s Compuserve account, and no clue as to what a web browser was nor why a graphic interface was important. Again, I kept reading, even as I was pushed way, way outside my comfort level and way outside my field of knowledge. I dropped the subscription during some lean financial years, and started back up again about 10 years ago, and have kept it going ever since.

I even took part once (in 2007) when the magazine said, send us your photo and we will send you a special edition with the reader on the cover. I did. I was.
Wired Magazine Jul07
I mention all that because I still look forward to Wired dropping in my mailbox (I’m still not yet excited with magazines on my iPad, and wish Newsweek still came to my mailbox, too.) I have always enjoyed how they balance a look to what’s coming with a look at what’s in the present, and that which has gone away. I don’t always buy the preachy viewpoint of technological change that they push us towards, but that’s OK. There is always enough in there to spark my brain.

So when the 20th anniversary, celebratory edition of Wired arrived the other week (see for yourself), I was intrigued and dove in. In a traditional alphabet sequence of ideas (Wired goes Old School!), the magazine revisits some of the transformative events and flops of the last 20 years as they have covered the world becoming increasing digital. From Beta designations of just about everything to Hypertext to the vocabulary of “snarky” tones of online writers to virtual communities to xkcd comic, the magazine’s coverage of the last 20 years is a great read.

Here are some snippets from the 20th Anniversary edition that jumped out at me:

“Now we experience culture through our apps.” (26)

“… the Arab Spring has shown the world what is possible when you combine social unrest with brave citizenry and powerful digital tools.” (28)

“The beta designation used to mean that a product wasn’t finished. Now we know it never will be.” (30)

“Really good coders build entire universes out of ideas.” (36)

“Crowdsourcing is the first industrial operating system native to the information age.” (42)

“We’re also in the midst of another major development: Design has become accessible to anyone with a laptop.” (44)

“Geekiness has become a synonym for counterculture braininess. And the rest is history.” (80)

“We now speak of hacking as a way of life, a gleeful corrective to any mired process … Whether or not we code, we all have a bit of the hacker in us now.” (86)

“In its wonderful vagueness, HTTP encoded a profoundly upbeat idea about our ability to come together, to fill in the blanks. And that crazy optimism has proven correct.” (90)

“New possibilities come to mind when intelligent worlds collide, and in the long run the web needed the poets and philosophers almost as much as it needed the coders.” (92)

“As with any technology, the long-term survival of language depends on utility. A word must fit its task, and sometimes — thankfully — that calls for a little wit.” (98)

“Put it all together and you have a bottom-up transformation of manufacturing that is following the similar democratized trajectories of computing and communications.” (108)

“Digital tools complement our effort to obtain meaningful face-to-face interactions.” (120)

“Reading code is like reading all things: you have to scribble, make a mess, remind yourself that the work comes to you through trial and error, and revision.” (122)

“The most accomplished trolls force online communities to ponder the limits of free speech in a medium that was supposed to obviate censorship.” (160)

“In the moment when some meme or viral video is taking off, it really does feel like a sort of epidemic.” (166)

“But never gone is the miraculous feeling of connecting with people far from our houses but close to our hearts.” (168)

Peace (in the words of the Wired world),
Kevin

The 3D Effect: A Slowly, Tilting Website

The other day, a companion in the Teach the Web MOOC shared out a feature in Firefox that I didn’t even know existed. It allows you to get a 3D view of a website. Check out these two screenshots that I took of my blog site:
Meandering Mind 3D View

Meandering Mind 3d View2

What is amazing is that this tool is right in Firefox itself. No add-ons or anything. Here’s how Michelle explained it:

“Use Firefox. :-) Go to any page. Right click and go to “Inspect Element.” In the dark box that appears at the bottom of the screen, click the 3D cube button (“3D View”) in the upper right. You can then drag the visualization around and look at it from different angles.” — from Michelle’s post in the MOOC Google Community.

I was blown away by this simple rendering of a website, and then started to think: how might this be useful in the classroom? Sure, it’s cool. But is it useful? I think it is, particularly when doing lessons around the architecture of the web. Notice what elements of my blog stand up and out, and the question is: why? What content is there that makes Firefox separate it from the surface? How might we re-envision a website from a flat interface to a three-dimensional space? Intriguing ideas that will surely get kids thinking and playing, and wondering, right?

Peace (in the pop up world),
Kevin

 

Considering Web Literacies: Ideas from Mozilla

This is part of a process underway by the Mozilla Foundation to articulate Web Literacies. They describe the process as “… elements we believe it’s important to pay attention to when teaching other people how to read, write and participate on the Web.”

I continue to be intrigued about the concept of thinking of my students’ lives online, and those intersections between learning in school and learning at home with technology, and where those ideas overlap … and don’t. Here, I do like the branching ideas of exploring, building, connecting. Many of the ideas are built on the concept of writing and reading, at least in my mind, but then take those ideas in new directions with technology.
8683509912_8b512e92a0_c.jpg

What do you think? There is more information about the work here.

Peace (in the consideration),
Kevin

 

 

Video: Explaining Classroom Inquiry Projects

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been working in partnership with an urban middle school on strengthening the writing and literacy instruction. One aspect of that project is that teachers have to design and launch a classroom research/inquiry project. What we found was some confusion over what that should look like, so along with written instructions (and future one-on-one sessions),I created this short video as another way to explain what inquiry might look like.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Serendipidous Poetry: NY Times Haiku

ny times haiku
What do you make of this? This site uses software analysis on articles in the New York Times to generate haiku poetry. It’s pretty fascinating to think about that idea of accidental poetry culled from the newspaper.

From the site:

How does our algorithm work? It periodically checks the New York Times home page for newly published articles. Then it scans each sentence looking for potential haikus by using an electronic dictionary containing syllable counts. We started with a basic rhyming lexicon, but over time we’ve added syllable counts for words like “Rihanna” or “terroir” to keep pace with the broad vocabulary of The Times.

Not every haiku our computer finds is a good one. The algorithm discards some potential poems if they are awkwardly constructed and it does not scan articles covering sensitive topics. Furthermore, the machine has no aesthetic sense. It can’t distinguish between an elegant verse and a plodding one. But, when it does stumble across something beautiful or funny or just a gem of a haiku, human journalists select it and post it on this blog.

– from Times Haiku

Peace (in automated poetry),
Kevin

 

 

Writer’s Knowledge Search Engine

writers knowledge base

I don’t know where I heard of this site, but the Writer’s Knowledge Base is  a modified search engine with links and resources specifically around the art of writing. I was playing around with it this morning and I liked how the filters are mostly set to find answers to queries about writing. You don’t get the world at your doorstep with every search. (The engine is created by the guy who created Hiveword, a software that helps with the writing of a novel. I haven’t used it but it looks like it might be helpful.)

The Writer’s Knowlege Base reminds me of some recent posts by Richard Byrne about how to create your own Google Search engine for your own needs by tweeking parameters and fields of search. I may tinker with that one of these days …

Peace (in the search),
Kevin

 

Interactive Fiction Experiment: A Rvl Story Cube

Interactive Fiction storystarts
I saw someone in my RSS feed share a link for this beta site — Rvl — that allows you to create virtual-cube-shaped presentations, and I wondered if it might work for interactive fiction. You have to envision the project as a cube that has sides up, down and to the right when creating (although you can go left to view). It does work, somewhat, but the inability to see a master plan, or concept map, of the various slides in orbit around the virtual cube made the writing of a story quite tricky. I had to make sure the narrative folded back in on itself a number of times (and there may still be some potholes in the story as a result. Sorry.)

You can access the story directly here, too. Use your arrow keys on the keyboard to toggle around, or you can mouse-click it, too. Let me know what you think …

Peace (cubed),
Kevin

 

Bye, Bye, Busy, Annoying School Website

A few years ago, our principal hired a web designer to work on our school’s website. What came out of that venture was one of the annoying school websites I have seen, and it has driven me crazy for years. I get what the guy was trying to do: create a site that was kid-friendly. What he created was a mess of colors and images that are a prime example of what you should NOT do when designing a site for an organization.

See what I mean:

old norris

Among the most glaring deficiencies, in my mind, is the lack of audience. He built this for the kids. He should have built it for the parents. Students almost never have reason to visit the school website, except for the summer, when they are trying to get a glimpse of what is in store for the year ahead.

No, school websites are for parents, and the old design was the worst possible message to parents. I lobbied hard over the years to our principal, who admitted the web designer came cheap. (I won’t even go into the designer’s claim that teachers could easily update new content for their pages … if you know HTML … we might agree that some knowledge of HTML is good — see Paul Oh’s piece over at The Digital Shift — but the reality is that few teachers know what HTML is, never mind what it does.)

So, I was pleased as punch this week when our school’s website got a complete overhaul and now looks more professional than ever. It’s not perfect but at least it has potential. I don’t look at it and want to shoot the screen, as I often did with the old animal-themed one. And the audience has shifted back to parents.

new norris

Now, if we can just get classroom teachers to move on beyond using Teacher Class Pages (which reflects the early 1990s in their feel) and into the 2010s …. (actually, my colleague Gail Poulin has been doing just that, teaching a group about how to use a WordPress blog for their class site.) And maybe updating news from last year is a good start, too.

:)

Peace (in the site and in my sight),
Kevin

On the Cover of the (Fake) Rolling Stone (Website)

Duker Rushmore on RS1

I decided to have some fun with the Hackasaurus X-Ray Goggles application, which allows you to layer in a hack on websites, by adding my band — Duke Rushmore — to the news feed page of Rolling Stone magazine (I am sure Jann Wenner won’t mind. Right?). In typical tongue and cheek, I created a series of news stories that poked fun at each of us in the band. If you knew us better, you’d get all the inside jokes. But I’d like to think the hacked Rolling Stone is still fun to read. I tried to make the writing I was doing in the form of short stories, thinking of the activity more as short story writing than information text. And let’s face it: humor writing can be difficult to pull off.

I didn’t leave myself out of the picture, either. (I’ve had my saxophone break apart on me before. Really. But I did not use Gorilla Glue. Really.)

Duke Rushmore on RS 2 Kevin

Logistically, the most difficult part of the hack was the images. While X-Ray Goggles allows you to change most images, you need to have the image hosted online with a .jpeg extension. We have plenty of photos online but none that were in a format that worked for what I wanted.  And we needed our own images on the site for the hack to work as I intended (as if we were really in the magazine). So, I ended up finding this site — Postimage — that hosts images, and allowed me to create thumbnails of the band.

One thing that is intriguing is that anyone can remix my hack, too (as long as you have the X-Ray Goggles button on your browser) and it would be cool to have my bandmates give it a try. (I actually rehacked my original hack to add more details to the stories that came to me later in the day, so this is final is the second itteration of the hack.) I’m not sure they will take me up on the offer, although they all loved what I had done with the hacked site.

Check out our hacked Rolling Stone webpage, and if you want the real news (which is not nearly as exciting), you can check out our band’s page on Facebook.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Hackjam with WMWP

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is in the midst of a year-long inquiry around digital literacies. It began back in the fall with a running theme through our Best Practices conference, and has continued with a few inquiry sessions with our WMWP leadership team. The other day, I facilitated a Hackjam session, as a way to get us talking and thinking about the hacking and remixing culture of young people and how it might connect to school-based learning.

We began with an activity away from the computer. I call it Hacking the Writers, a version of Hacking the Poster that I did at the National Writing Project meeting (thanks to Chad Sansing and Andrea Zellner). I brought in a poster that I have of cartoon characters of famous writers (the poster is very funny in itself) and handed out sticky notes and said, add your own comments to the poster. The room got sort of silent, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But soon enough, there was a lot of laughter going on and the poster got hacked.

WMWP Hackjam2

Next, we had the privilege of having Rafi Santo skype into our meeting for about 40 minutes. Rafi has done some very interesting work around “hacking literacies” and the consideration of systems, and how to think about participatory media in a meaningful way. (We all read a piece by Rafi about hacking literacies to set the stage — you can find a link to the article here). Rafi was wonderful, helping to open up some eyes around why teachers should be considering this topic. His talk moved from social justice issues (giving power to change the media message and the issue of access) to the reclaiming of the word “hacking” as a positive endeavor to a rationale for at least understanding the technology we use on a daily basis. The topics of privacy and ownership were also featured.

My hope had been that Rafi would establish a case for why we should care, and use, hacking literacy ideas in the classroom, and he did so in a meaningful way.

Next, I introduced two tools: one was the Lego Gender Remixer, which allows you to remix Lego commercials in order to uncover marketing techniques. The other was the Hackauraus XRay Goggles, which is a hacking tool that allows you to hack websites (not really — it is an overlay) and craft new messages. We went into Education Week and hacked our own messages about teaching, and you should have heard the giggling and chatting that was going on in the room. There was excitement about some easy tools that would help students and teachers understand the larger concepts.

WMWP hack

These kinds of sessions help lay the groundwork for consideration of our classroom. I don’t expect hacking to suddenly explode in their schools. But getting situated on the possibilities, and flipping the concept to a positive idea around empowerment of student voice, is a step in the right direction.

Peace (in the hack),
Kevin