Archive for May, 2007

Robert Frost famously said that writing in Free Verse was like playing tennis with the net down. But for the past weeks, we’ve been swatting the birdie about with no net in sight. I don’t feel all that bad about it either. Badminton, afterall, is so affected by the slightest breeze that all serious games are played indoors.

Since we lack a certain seriousness, we play to see how long we can keep a volley going, we sent the shuttlecock high into the air, we smash to birdie into each other, at least one of us tries to bounce the birdie off his racket several times before swatting the thing at his opponent. In general, we are having fun even in the wind. And we use no net.

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Among today’s news in tech, first found by me at TechCrunch:

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Jackson Fox writes to alert us about DCampSouth:

DCampSouth
Date: June 2, 2007
Time: 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM (Schedule)
Location: School of Communication Arts, Raleigh, NC

DCampSouth is a BarCamp for anyone interested in design and user experience… And it’s in the south. DCampSouth was inspired by DCamp, held in May 2006 in Palo Alto, CA. The goal of DCampSouth is to bring together people of all professions interested in user experience and design, to help foster communication between professions, and help foster community.

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Today at 1 pm EDT WUNC’s Dick Gordon interviews Jonathan Abrams, founder of Friendster. The Story is described here:

Jonathan Abrams founded Friendster – the first online social network to attract millions of users. The site was wildly successful after its launch in 2002, and by 2003, Jonathan faced two options: sell out to Google for $30 million, or partner with private investors.

Jonathan chose to partner, and in his eyes, things went downhill from there. By 2004, Friendster had been eclipsed by sites like MySpace and, more recently, Facebook.

Dick talks with Jonathan about what he learned from the success and later failure of Friendster, and how he plans to compete with a new social networking project in what has become a very crowded field.

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At the local multi-plex the battle is between Pirates 3, Shrek 3 and Spiderman 3, all full of computer effects, loud noises, cute creatures, thwarted loves, and bloody battles. And none in the same class as the original.

We went to the bloodiest or so I hear, Pirates. Craig Lindsey of NandO writes a review that I agree with (for a change) here. When Depp finally showed up, the movie was beyond saving at least as far as having any coherent storyline goes. But then maybe having a coherent storyline is overrated.

Still, Depp could have been deployed much better and then there is Keith Richards. You bring in someone like Richards because he’s recognizable, not because he’s a great actor — he isn’t, but he does play a great Keith Richards if you let him and don’t overdress him to the point of having him wear a fake nose that makes him look like Cyrano’s lost brother! Yikes! If you have to wear a nose like that, you should get to be in the sword fight scenes.

Even when I tried to let loose and not care about the details and let the effects sweep over me — I didn’t care.

I wonder of Disney or the audience is aware of the various ironies in the text. The armada of evil are at the command of a large faceless corporation whose goal is to eliminate Pirates from the face of the earth. Not only that but the corporation has manipulated the government to act on its behalf even to the point of suspending the freedom of assembly, of habeas corpus, of trial by jury and a number of other civil liberties. Yes you can’t help but think Gitmo and then oddly of Disney and copyright.

No copyright is not equal to Gitmo. I’m not so dumb as to make that assertion. The messages are tangled in an odd way. But no matter before too long my brain like Depp/Sparrow’s had checked out. I let my body react. I didn’t fall asleep, but I wasn’t very engaged either. I should have been in awe when Naomie Harris grew to a giant size then turned into a rain of crabs (I am not making this up) but I wasn’t.

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The Odyssey of the Mind World Finals are complete. The scores are in. The awards have been given. And we’re all heading home.

Among the Balsa Builders, where we spent a lot of time observing the action, the Middle School teams out performed the High Schools. No High School team this year built a structure that held over 1000 pounds — the best, 980, was achieved by two teams –, but no less than 5 Middle School teams held over 1000. The top Middle School team held 1220. But that was overshadowed by the performance of a structure build by Elementary School students from Oak Hill Elementary in Herndon, VA which held 1280 pounds.

Our buddy team from Guangdong, China finished second in the Middle School division of the small vehicle problem, Tag ‘Em.

And our team from Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill, NC finished 10th in their problem, The Large and Small of It.

We’re all packing up and heading out.

Synopsis of next year’s problems
are already posted. Information about finding OotM (the preferred abreviation of Odyssey of the Mind) can be found by contacting your state or country directors.

Note: My entire OttM 2007 collection of stories with pictures is over at GeekDad.Com.

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Deborah Proctor
Fiona Morgan of the Independent did a great interview with WCPE head Deborah Proctor about the latest Copyright Royalty Board ruling, the evil that is SoundExchange, current pending legislation in Congress as regards Internet Radio and the future of independent radio streaming on the net.

You too can help Save Internet Radio (see here).

Note: ibiblio provides streaming for WCPE and 7 other independent stations including the first station on the net, WXYC.

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Not all in East Lansing is Odyssey of the Mind or even Michigan State University.

Thanks to former local David Harrison, we turned up at the International Travelers Club and Tuba Museum where we turned up some rich local micro-brews last night.

Today walking down the street after the cold rain, we found a wonderful almost indescribable used bookshop, The Curious Book Shop, has the best collection of vintage pulp I’ve seen including tons of great old edition Sci-fi and such wonders as the “Two Loves of Nurse Ellen” and “Diary of a Hell Cat.” You could not make this titles up, much less write 150 pages to match the titles — then the lovely covers. They are of a certain age and so are ageless.

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Tom Davenport and fairy tale film collaborator Sarah Toth
I wrote a quick note about the Weekend Edition story about Tom Davenport and folkstreams.net this morning earlier, but I’m just now getting to hear it (thanks NPR site) and it’s great. Tom and Bill Ferris do a wonderful job of describing the project and telling us why it’s so important.

The associated website gives a close approximation of the audio with links to several popular and very different (from each other) Folkstreams films.

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We attended a selection of Middle School competitions today at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals here in East Lansing. I’ve posted the article with images over on GeekDad.com.

First I should tell you that the Balsa record set yesterday was broken when the team from Valley Springs Middle School in Arden, NC build a structure weighing 18 grams that supported 1220 pounds. No high school team risen above the 1000 mark so far this competition, but tomorrow at 10:33 the high school fed by Valley Springs, T. C. Roberson in Asheville, will be weighing in. We missed the Arden team but here is a close up of the Edison, NJ (Victor Ho, Bryon Le, and Jerry He) team’s structure as it began to buckle at 740 pounds.

[pictures of the NJ team here]

We saw an extraordinary performance by the buddy team from Fushan Jiujiang Town Middle School of Guangdong, China at Tag ‘em. This problem involved small vehicles traveling independently across a “Transfer Zone” pausing as different payloads were dropped into the vehicle from distant crane then delivering the treasure to a Home square. The payloads were then sorted into bins. The detail in the sets was matched by the ingenuity of the vehicle and crane builders. The whole team was elaborately costumed and danced their skit as a kind of ballet.

[pictures of the Chinese team here]

Our team had some tough competition in the “Large and Small of It.” In the pictures below, the team from Pinetops, NC created a travelogue of their state with ghost stories at every stop from the mountain to the sea. Their small paper mechanics pages changed exactly like their detailed larger counterparts. And at the finale their quiet pet became an inflated pillow spewing confetti on the stage.

[pictures of the Pinetops presentation here]

The hovercraft that delivered Rat Man from his isolated existence a Wishing Well was put to good final use as a pleasure craft for one of the team’s coaches. Then the teams celebrated by sharing gingerbread baked in Poland, added to a costume and flown the Michigan for the competition. The rest is in the dumpster — except for recyclables of course.

[pictures of the hovercraft, gingerbread suit and dumpster here].

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Note: improved version of this article with pictures can be found on GeekDad.com.

No problem group at Odyssey of the Mind touches people as deeply as the Structure or Building problem — as our Geek Dad Commentors remind us. We spent this morning among the young builders picking up on secrets that have been passed down through dynasties of balsa builders.

This year’s problem is called Out of the Box Balsa:

The team’s problem is to design, build, and test a structure made of balsa wood and glue that will balance and support weights. The team is allowed to use materials other than balsa wood and glue to assemble the parts of the structure. The structure will be designed to fit completely inside a box that is smaller than the assembled structure. When competition time begins, the team will remove the parts and assembly materials from the box, creatively assemble its structure, and test it by placing weights onto it.
Cost limit: $125 USD.

There are some interesting aspects to this problem if you think out of the box. One team did today and their structure which weighed in at less than 18 grams held 1050 pounds! Even so that team may not be the winner; a team from Arkansas was rumored (only one source and he from Arkansas) to have held 1452 pounds at their state competition. That Arkansas team will be up tomorrow.

The inside the box balsa tips are:

  • Pick your wood carefully. Inspect the grain. Look for cracks, dents and imperfections.
  • Carefully apply your glue and trim any you don’t need.
  • Bake your balsa. Weigh in is 2 hours before the performance and moisture is unneeded weight. We saw teams take their structures hot out of a toaster oven and direct to the weigh in.
  • Level your structure. The best builders use levels and/or plates of glass to check that the weight will be evenly distributed.
  • Deploy your team members wisely. One coach told me that her team formed a fire brigade from the weights to the structure in such a way that the member putting on the weight and most others didn’t even move their feet. This gave them plenty of time to be careful when placing the weights.
  • Four legs are better than three. I would have thought that a triangular prism was stronger than a square prism, but the coaches and builders I talked to said no, you need the four legs or you’ll be off kilter for sure.
  • Think outside the box. The structure that held over 1000 pounds was actually three square prisms placed broadly apart and joined by some very light string spreading the pressure out nicely.

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folkstreams.net logo

Yes yes yes This Saturday morning on Weekend Edition with Scott Simon! Folkstreams.net founder Tom Davenport will be interviewed. And more about Tom and his farm and his project will be on the NPR website.

Folkstreams.net is a joint project with ibiblio.org partially funded by grants from IMLS.

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Bora Sivkovic who was one of the major forces behind the Science Bloggers Conference is now working for the Public Library of Science. He got his job in an unusual way; he used his blog and his social networks to provide recommendations. A perfect way to show his abilities as an online community organizer.

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Reading along in Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert‘s great popular book on the psychology of perception and its consequences, when I hit the “Hound of Silence” chapter. This one is about how difficult it is to notice what isn’t there, the absence rather then the presence of something. The chapter begins with a famous selection from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” in which Sherlock Holmes notices “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” What was curious? The dog didn’t bark when he probably should have. By noticing what wasn’t there, Holmes cracked the case.

The section after the intro is titled “The Sailors Not.” There are no sailors mentioned in the section. What is mentioned is an experiment on how absence works against perception as it did on all the subjects in the experiment. No Holmes among them.

Okay I said, “No sailors” and read on to the next section “Absence in the Present.” Wait! This is all about sailors! And about sailors who were absent in a story that Sir Francis Bacon borrowed from Cicero.

Now, am I a nit-picker who noticed that the copyeditor fell down on the job and let pass that the two section heads had been switched?

Or am I a wit who picked up and some sly psychological tricks being played by Gilbert on less wily readers?

Or am I a twit who spends far too much time trying to tease something significant out of a simple printing and layout error?

Am I more of a twit to say that telling you this makes me happy. Almost as happy as when I solve a Friday New York Times Crossword?

Whilst still in my twit mode, let me note that I am reading the 2006 first edition Knopf hardback.

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The OM Opening Ceremony has been said to be modeled on the Olympics, but there are only a few similarities. The States and Countries in do send representatives to march into the stadium. Brief bits of the national anthems are played. The ceremony ends with a shout in unison of “Let the Games Begin.” Really the Opening ceremony is more like a stadium concert with laser lights and smoke machines and loud music. Well, maybe a bit of both.

This year’s opening ceremony filled MSU’s Breslin Arena. Over 800 teams are here to compete. Among the countries represented are Germany, China, Kazakhstan, and Mexico.

Hats are a big deal at OM gatherings as are pins which can represent a state, a country, a team, or even a long term problem being worked on. Pins are traded all over sometimes giving the appearance of a large meet up with budding sidewalk “Rollex” salesmen.

When we left our team, they were looking for their international buddies, the team from Fushan Jiujiang Town Middle School in Guangdong, China.

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Arrived in da Mota City and hied directly to Okemos which touches East Lansing which touches Lansing. Then off to check out the venues. Outside of the temple to Basketball is a life-sized statue (?) of Magic Johnson (okay maybe heroic scale at 12 feet tall). Inside the arena is being set up for a faux stadium concert cum opening ceremony for tonight.

We also stopped to check out the venue for the team’s long term “Big and Small of It” skit/presentation. A great old theatre, the Fairchild, with a lot of wood. The backstage setup is a bit tight. One team was in the hall inspecting their set. True to OM, the coaches were a distance away talking among themselves and the kids were worrying over the travel-produced scrapes and bruises that their props and inventions had taken on. One boy looked back to the coaches and his fellow team members; he had found a big crack. What to do? The coaches didn’t say anything. But one of his team members ran over to a powerplug and jacked in her solution. “Clear out! Danger! Red head with a glue gun!” she shouted.

Things were under a kind of control.

In other news, our team has been assigned an international buddy team — the Chinese who won in our division last year.

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Note: Once the Wired folks admit me Now that the Wired folks have set me up as a contributor, this and other postings about kids and tech will be over on Geek Dad.

The hardest part of being a teacher and of being a geekdad is keeping your mouth shut and letting the kids take charge. That’s what Odyssey of the Mind requires. You can show your kid and others on his team how to do something but they have to ask and ask without prompting. The results are amazing and creative and as you might guess, unpredictable.

Think of Odyssey of the Mind as MakerFaire by and for kids with contraints in budget but not on creativity.

My son’s team is on their way this week to their second OM (as it’s called unofficially or OotM more officially) World Final competition. I’ll report on not only their progress but about other creative kids in the competition at Michigan State University the end of this week.

Tucker’s team is made up of four girls and three guys all now 14 years old. But teams can be single sex and can span a few years. Divisions cover from K – 12 with a small college division.

Teams are given long term problems which are quite involved and include technical solutions, skits, costumes and sets — all scored and all presented in 8 minutes or less. And at a materials cost of under $145 (for their problem this year).

The Large And Small Of It requires that the team “create and present an original performance that integrates team-created Small Pages and Large Versions that change appearance. The method used to make the Large Versions change appearance will simulate the methods used to change the Small Pages. One of these methods must be technical. The Large Versions will serve as stage sets for the performance. During the performance a character will also appear to dramatically change in size. This effect will be created using technical means.”

Other problems include building weight bearing structures from balsa wood, building vehicles that perform some task, combining Classics and world geography and psychology.

That’s half the work. For the other half the team must spontaneously solve a problem presented to them. They aren’t allowed to talk about the spontaneous problems so I have to tease that out from other sources with the help of the OM press folks.

Last year, a team from Shanghai, China finished first in the vehicle problem leaving the Chapel Hillians in 6th place. So the competition is truly international and tough.

I can’t tell you just now what this team has dreamed up, but I can say that it involves some creative use of story telling, technology, duct tape, a recycled leaf blower and pvc pipes — and that the Chinese will be back to defend their title.

More news as it happens.

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Up to the latest in WP and switching themes. In the midst of both. WP looks like we’re set. Need to customize the Cutline theme tho.

Okay, I like Mandigo which has all kinds of easy modification controls, but I also have now promised myself not to get completely sucked into endless redesign today! We’ll stick with MetalDreams for now and get widget friendly and cleaner later on.

Yikes! Bjork and her Volta have also chosen Mandigo. I want my pix on top so’s I have to get my mod act together. (thanks MisterSugar for the alert on Bjork).

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If things work out right, I’ll be posting about the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Geekdad. The timing would be perfect as we’re about to leave for East Lansing and the Maker Faire — a kind of tech without theater adult version of OM — has just been covered by Geekdad reporters.

Twitter was just covered by NPR a couple of hours ago. Consensus amongst a few of us is that even though we love Twitter and tweet often — and wittily and informatively — the story showed that Twitter has likely jumped the shark. And the story wasn’t really told. Twitter is good when the content is good and interesting. Otherwise it’s just “I’m busy.”

Also just did a brief email interview about this year’s Blooker with the Swedish publication GÖTEBORGS-POSTEN. I hope my writing looks better with a lot of umlauts scattered throughout.

Speaking of Blooker interviews, fellow judge Julie Powell turns in a smart interview with an Italian publication titled “I Was Just So Relieved the Zombie Didn’t Keep a Blog”

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Caught Django and company playing as the Old Ceremony tonight outside on the green at Southern Village. We were at their last Cat’s Cradle show only a few weeks ago. Tucker and a couple of his friends who are also WCOM Teen Spirit DJs were with us this time out. The audience was both much younger and much older than the Cradle crowd. More like the crowd that Django soloed to last summer at Saxapahaw. The band was sharp, as in on the spot and wellrehearsed, but frankly an outdoor concert calls for a better sound system than was available. It was passable but a band with as much and as diverse instrumentation as TOC calls for great onstage monitors and someone full time on the boards. Everyone had a great time. Many of the folks were diehard TOC fans it seems — I didn’t remember seeing them at the Cradle though. TOC opened with “Morning Glories”

Set list:
Morning Glories
Ole!
Something Going On (not out yet)
Poison Pen
Talk Striaght (jokes and references to the video and concert footage done for Carolina For Kibera)
American Romeo
Believer
Blood and Oil
Until My Voice is Gone (not out yet)
(Can’t play Radio Religion as it requires more that a one handed piano player. TOC’s Pianoman has his right arm in a cast)
Reservations
Bao Qian
Papers in Order (which also has a video. Some of the folks in the audience are in it)
Carry the One
Hearts are Made (To Be Broken) [current download on MySpace]
Pennsylvania
Get to Love
Our One Mistake
Dumb Down
(encore)
The Motions

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