January 2010 Archives

At what point will it be possible to develop an iPad application on an iPad?
So...  thinking about ways the newly-announced iPad will become a device for the classroom, for teaching, learning, and composing.  Will the new edition of iWorks export to the ePub format used in the reading software on the iPad?  Will the iPad read any ePub file?  (Can I read my Gutenberg books?  Can we self-publish for the iPad?)

What happens when reading a book can be multi-touch as well as multi-media? (Beyond kitschy animated effects...) How will the interaction change?  I still want that uninterrupted "fictive dream" that John Gardner spoke about - I want that diving in, want Virginia Woolf's "thought plunged into a sea of words and come up dripping."  But I love pictures, and responsive interfaces, and, yes, some video.  I love beautiful maps.  I love restrained, highly-controlled, minimal design.  Quiet.  Room for contemplation, but small touches that evoke delight.

I think the iPad can be a space for sharing beautiful work.  I want to make work for it.
Most of the time, I do not listen to music while working.
I'm sitting on the sofa, waiting for my bus, and falling asleep as I type - thus the idea of waiting for my bus drops into my sentence. Also listening to John Adams' music from the album, Hoodoo Zephyr.
Increment, increment, increment.
Our Digital Sandbox proposal is now up for comment and response on the MacArthur Foundation's digital media learning competition site.  The idea is to create hands-on kits to bring the Maker/DIY experience of playful discovery to young kids (and I'm doing this in collaboration with the people who produced Mister Rogers' Neighborhood).
This looks very interesting.  Hope the papers become available online, or we have video coverage of the panels.
I've been looking at some screencast-style tutorials in the last few days, as I try to learn (or re-learn) some video editing and compositing techniques.  In one set of screencasts, the sample footage being edited features the narrator of the series - so even though you don't see his face talking you through the steps of the process he's teaching you, you see his face on the screen anyway, in another context.  I feel  much more connected to his video, and it holds my attention better than others.

Something to remember.
"Because my mind flies into it through my fingers,"

- from Why I take good care of my Macintosh, by Gary Snyder.
I am not a morning person, but in graduate school I found that I can write rapid rough drafts in the early hours of the day.  One explanation I developed? For me, the criticizing voice wakes up later than the creating voice.  I think it also goes to bed earlier.

"This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way."

W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, 1951.


This work by Naoko Ito pleases me in so many ways. Clarity. Balance. Play. Conceptual elegance. (via Make)

Found out yesterday that the Inspiration visual thinking software has a free web version: webspiration. This will let more people try it.  One of my favorite features is the click button where you can go from a bubbles and strings mind map to a hierarchical text outline and back again, toggling between the views of the same information.  For some of us, that transformation is the moment where the outlines we were always supposed to make of our ideas finally click into sense.  "Ah, so THAT's what they were doing."

"Whatever good there is to get, get it, and feel good." - Ntozake Shange

"The more the work is approached as a unit, the better are its chances for turning out well. Sensational effects are all too often pursued, to the detriment of "just right" solutions. The extraordinary cannot be forced into existence, but might result unexpectedly and surprisingly from constant and earnest effort."

- Frank Zeier,Books, Boxes, and Portfolios: Binding, Construction, and Design Step-by-Step
Design Press 1983, 1990 translation by Ingrid Li

Sometimes the best help I can give is my patience.

I am passionate about technology and new tools for expression, but as I go on with this blog, I realize that my daily conversations about tech are always set in some kind of context.  Someone has a question.  Someone would like to do something.  Someone is already doing something, and I have an idea about a way they could do it better.  I don't have a grand unified theory of technology.  My approach is not general, but applied and contingent. Local. Individualized.

Hmm.  Suppose that's a theory.

The current issue of The Atlantic has an article, "What makes a great teacher?" based on studies of data correlating teacher practices with hundreds of thousands of student annual test scores from the Teach for America program.

"Right away, certain patterns emerged. First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness..... Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully--for the next day or the year ahead--by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls."

I used to think that people who claimed that the process was more important than the result, had just not gotten a very good result.  It was an excuse, I thought, a way to shift the focus afterwards.

I've changed my mind.

Now I see process as a result.  The way of working is one of the things you make. 

I know about clean desks and inbox:0 and all, but what about browser tab:0? Often find myself with 15-20 open tabs at the end of the day.  I can put things into Instapaper and ignore them there, drag links onto my desktop, and add to that digital clutter, or I can take a deep breath and close them all.  Better to start fresh in the morning, with a new internet.


Happy Palindrome Day.  We'll have another on the 22nd, and then that's it for the year.  Next year we'll have to wait until November, but November 11th will be another pleasing date: 11.11.11.


"A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules." - Anthony Trollope

19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope worked as a civil servant for the General Post Office in England. Full time. He did not inherit wealth. To write his novels (and he wrote many, many novels) he got up at dawn and wrote every day. According to his autobiography, he gave himself a daily quota of words, and met it. If he happened to conclude a novel midway through the morning's task, he'd begin another one.

His reputation as a writer declined after he died and the autobiography was published. His methodical and businesslike and daily approach to his work was not how people wanted to imagine inspiration, art, creativity.

And maybe for some people, creative work is occasional - inspired - irregular. For myself, though, I get the best results when I find a way to do something small every day. Especially when I feel stuck. Out. Dull. I do the work anyway. What happens? Some possibilities: 1.The work is dull. I was right. But I've kept the momentum going, and maybe tomorrow will be better. 2. I'm stuck, but I have to do something. In desperation, I reach around for something--anything--to do, don't care what it is, and in that reckless mood, I find a new idea or a new process. 3. The work seems dull to me as I do it, but looking back on it, I realize that I was learning something new, and just not yet able to express it fully. 4. The work seems dull to me, but others appreciate it - I wasn't ready to understand it myself yet.

Screen shot 2010-01-09 at 10.02.21 PM.png

Dot Matrix, apparently. At least according to Pentagram's What Type Are You quiz. (The password is Character.) Answer 4 questions posed by the faceless psychiatrist in the interactive video, and you can find out your own type as well. If you are a real font geek, you probably have also found the game "Cheese or Font?" Harder than you'd imagine...
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If you follow my bookmark mini-blog at all, you know that I'm a giant fan of Leah Buechley and Hannah Perner-Wilson (aka Plusea) and the work they've been doing combining traditional crafts with electronics and physical computing. Project after project after project intrigues me. I read and view their work online, or see presentations at conferences, and realize that this is the space where so many of my own interests overlap: textiles (knitting, felting, sewing), bookmaking and papercraft, feminist theory, art, computing, playful invention - all there.

Buechley is the director of the recently founded High-Low Tech research group at the MIT Media Lab. The no-less-awesome Becky Stern of Make and Craft visited the Media Lab recently, and made a video about the work going on there.


My newest daydream art and teaching residency? To spend a summer month or two at the Media Lab, learning from the research group, making things of my own, and writing curriculum for a different kind of electronics and computer science class... the kind of class I wish existed when I was in high school.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the teaching of programming. 

Next year, I'm hoping to teach an online programing course. (Hello future students, if you happen to explore these archives.)  I have a good book, which will work well as a textbook.  We can follow the chapters and do exercises together.

How can I add to that? What can I do to make the experience more valuable?  Social media and some course management software will let me do more than simply say - read, do the exercises, study for the quiz, any questions on the chapter?

I've only taken one formal programming class - in Java, almost ten years ago, and it was very badly taught. Everything else I know I've taught myself or have learned in a rapid-fire workshop or conference presentation. So I don't have lots of traditional experience as a teacher of computer science. But I have taught lots of writing and literature classes, and I've taught digital media. And I love teaching.

Here's my current plan... Let me figure out the arc of the entire semester, first.  Where do I want them to be at the end?  What do I want them to understand?  What do I hope they will discover? What will they be able to make and do?

Once I have those notes down for myself, let me think about the rhythm and structure of the units, the parts that will make up the whole.  I want to create some traditions, some questions and processes of thinking that we will return to.  I want to layer some ideas, some play, some discussion to extend each topic.  I want to have some goofy fun.  I want to find some inspiring examples.  I want them talking to each other, and creating some projects that they'd never expect to find in a computer class.

So that's what I'm trying for.  And the outline and a sample lesson are due online next week. 

I'm always testing new bits of software, new tools.  Oooh, pretty-shiny-new, how does it work? Most of the time I use a thing once or twice and then forget about it.  I move on.  But every so often, I find something that naturally suits my way of working, and it becomes part of my life.

My newest favorite thing is OmmWriter - an application created for writing and concentration.  A pared-down space.  I can imagine making some changes to it (I'd love to be able to add my own background picture someday, or choose my own ambient sound) but the defaults are fine.  The software reminds me to be still, to take my time, to think, and then it gets out of the way.

Remember the "Bank Error in Your Favor" Monopoly card?  How about "Deadline Error in Your Favor?"

I just raced to complete the online portion of an application for a teaching project tonight, only to realize that either I had mis-read the date by 10 days, or that someone had silently corrected a typo, making the deadline midnight on January 15, rather than midnight on January 5.

And I discovered that difference on January 5 at 11:45. After a lot of writing. Sigh. I wondered why the application was due in two phases... and why nobody else had posted to the discussion lists yet.
I draw every day.  That doesn't require a lot of time, but it's a steady piece of each day's rhythm.  I often don't draw until the house gets quiet - other people have gone upstairs to bed, and I can take as much time and attention as I need, without fear of interruption.  (If I don't wait, and I am interrupted while trying to concentrate on something, I turn from patient to irascible with no notice.  Too hard on everyone else, and I feel sorry afterwards, but by then I'm distracted, the drawing goes bad, and, and,  -- it's just much easier all around if I wait until I can work by myself.)  Solitude restores me.  I love people and work with people all day.  Love my family and wish evenings, mornings, and weekends were longer.  But I need the balance of time alone - with words, with art - to feel like a whole person.

Day before yesterday, I found a link to Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python, a free e-book and online course designed to let 10-12-year-olds learn to program by creating games.  Bookmarked it, shared the link with someone I know who is subscribing the MIT iTunes-U podcast series on computer programming which uses Python, and wondered if our youngest child would like the e-book...

And the answer was yes. I had the delight of seeing my 9-year-old daughter write a program for her first "Hello, world!" yesterday, and then today we got far enough along in the book that we made a guess-the-number game.  The typing is the biggest roadblock, so far.  Sometimes we get around it by having her read the code aloud to me while I type it for her.  She's a little impatient with the explanations, wanting to get to the games right away.  The fourth chapter began with the game, which was good.  Now that we have it working, I think the chapter will go on to explain the underlying concepts to her. 

We'll see whether her interest is held by programming with typed text, or whether we'll want to change over to a more visual, drag-and-drop interface with Scratch.

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."  - G.K. Chesterton

Even beginning a blog, for instance.

Because as soon as I reread the opening declaration from yesterday, I realize that if we are counting from 1 to 10, this is the last year of the decade, and not the first.

Does that matter?  Should I go back and fix it?

I return to Chesterton. His sentence has become a motto of mine, an idea I come back to again and again for consolation and encouragement.  The received wisdom in our culture is  "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well."

And that bit of received wisdom is wrong. You don't need to something well for the results to be valuable.  In fact, if a thing is really worth doing, really important, you will probably do it badly at first.  You can either give up, or you can keep going.

I choose to keep going.

This blog may take a while to find its true pitch, but if I keep each entry small and sustainable, and write forward, correcting any big problems as I go along rather than going back and fiddling with the wording, I know I will get more written. The more I write, the sooner this blog will have its own voice, its own rhythm, its own range.


Tomorrow will bring new errors, and new discoveries - see you then. 
A new year - new decade - new blog.

I've decided to make myself an online space where I can think aloud. Many of the things that interest me fall outside of the direct focus of woolgathering, and while my del.icio.us mini-blog lets me annotate and share links, I'd like a more flexible and frequent format.  So here we are.

What's this about?

I am committed to creativity and expression, playful exploration as a mode of learning, and technology for regular people (non-specialists).  Much of what I do for my living lets me share what I know about these subjects in person, with other people - either one-at-a-time, or in small-to-medium-sized groups.

As a blogger, I have learned the power of daily practice.  In thinking each day about how we can be playful with the technology which so embraces us, I hope that I can contribute to the conversation as I keep learning, keep messing things up, and keep creating.

Thanks, and welcome.



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