Friday, March 31, 2006

Designers Write.

A designer writes about the role of writing in a designer's job.


I'm collecting my wits and resting my eyes, but I'll post again, soon, on the subject of writing and critical thinking.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

ajaxWrite, et al

ajaxWrite is a free, web based word processor for users of Firefox.

Prediction: In the future, most software we use will launch from the web.

Update: Another, even more elaborate online productivity tool is GOffice. It includes a word processor, simple desktop publishing, a spreadsheet editor, and eventually will include a presentation tool (like PowerPoint). Output in HTML and PDF.

I'm not sure how to feel about the collection of writing templates in GOffice, but they're there, too.

Numsum is a web based spreadsheet application

Dr. B. Shares His Kit o' Macros

Over at hardcoreambiguity, my colleague Dr. Blessinger has published a comprehensive kit of grading macros. The release of this info should make adoption of "semi-auto" grading (not full-auto: the human teacher, not the computer, still calls the shots) a bit easier.

If Dr. B's macro-charged commenting technique and embedded grading rubrics are new to you, you may want to view these tutorials first, to get the idea:

Macros tutorial

Rubrics tutorial

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cool Avatar

drawing of Shakespeare in sunglasses

Avatar time. Our "Way Cool English for Info Systems Majors" Facebook group needed a signature image. What could be cooler than a Shakespeare in shades?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Podcasting Presentation

Tomorrow I give my presentation on podcasting to my university colleagues. Here's what I'm planning to do:

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Right Kind of Thing

Dad: Do you like your lime yogurt?

Child: Yes, Daddy, I really do like it. It's extremely delicious!

Dad: I'm glad you like it.

Child: Daddy?

Dad: Yes?

Child: You bought me the right kind of thing.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Wizz Newsreader for Firefox

There's a new aggregator in town.

Wizz RSS 2.1.0 Newsreader
is an RSS aggregator extension for Firefox.

It's pretty darn slick, works better than the on board aggregator built into Internet Explorer 7 (Wizz has more convenient buttons and a more detailed file structure for feeds), and when combined with Writely or a wiki completes the kind of online learning environment Stephen Downes was talking about before he went on hiatus.

The learning evironment Downes envisions combines areas for scanning and downloading aggregated content and other areas for producing and publishing new content (as one might do in a wiki or blogging program).

I believe, seeing that Firefox + aggregator + web based productivity and social networking tools may now be orgainized in a single interfact, we may say such an evironment has arrived.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Open Source Software

Wikipedia boasts a formidable list of open source software packages.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Line Language

a drawing of a boy

Since I picked it up about two years ago, drawing remains one of my favorite hobbies. At first, it excited me just to see if my drawing in any way resembled what I was trying to draw. Now I think about the lines. I think about what it takes to bring the lines to life. I enjoy thinking about what makes one line leap while another lies on the page or screen like a dessicated slug.

Another favorite hobby I have is that of sensing analogies between drawing and writing. When I did the drawing above I thought of the lines and how much they seemed like sentences. (Bear with me, now.) Like a line, a sentence may be lively or flat. The words in a sentence may be strung side by side (an unvarying line), or they may undulate and twist like a wavy line of varying width. When lines of text work together they give writing suggestive shapes.

When a drawing when the writing comes to life one feels a presence in the room.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How "Suite" It Is!

I just discovered Doug Belshaw's list of indispensable freeware programs. My favorite is the portable aps suite. It'll install Firefox, NvU,, Abiword, Sunbird, FileZilla, and GAIM to a flash drive.

(Windows only.)

I added the freestanding Audacity.

PB Podcasting

PBWiki could be used as a podcasting platform!

Monday, March 13, 2006

"TILT" Episode 9: Educational Blogging

TILT stands for Teachers Improving Learning with Technology. It is a videocast aimed at helping teachers make the most of technology for teaching. Some good ideas here.

Sound Collage 1

Inspired by audiolingo, here's a DanToday sound collage . Let's call it, "Just Another Day At Work."
two blokes walking to work

Sunday, March 12, 2006

No Effect


Some people think that listening to certain frequencies and patterns of sound can influence the patterns and frequencies of one's brainwaves.

So, when the child was feeling particularly frisky, and I wasn't, I played the "relaxation" sound wave generated by the BrainWave Generator.

Sadly, the child is immune to such shenanigans.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Simple Podcasting Platform

For those who like a do-it-yourself approach (the best way to learn, I think), here's a link to the simplest, hand coded podcasting platform I could devise.

It features an HTML index page and an RSS feed. And that's it.

Here's a link to the files (zipped folder).

Skype in My Teaching

Skype, that handy combination of video, voice, and text chat, is a fine tool for teaching. I've used it in the following situations:

Virtual Office Hours

While sitting in my office during scheduled office hours, I run Skype so students may chat with me more conveniently. Some students will Skype with me who would not come to my office. Admittedly, most of the calls I receive come 24 hours or less before an assignment is due, asking for last minute instructions. However, some students are more planful. They call me while writing a draft of a paper. I "look over their shoulder" while they write in Writely, or write comments on a draft while they wait for me to send it back to them. Also, students seem to like to know I'm online, even if they don't chat with me. I use Skype to let them know I'm here.

Extra Office Hours

The night before a paper is due I'll start a large group chat and keep it open until midnight or 1 am. I'll call it something like "ENGL 101 Up All Night." I hope, at these times, to create a sense of community and support.

Student Chats

My students work in groups. Sometimes they have trouble scheduling meetings. Skype helps them conquer time and space. They can meet from anywhere there's an internet connection.

Chat with a Librarian

When students work on bibliographies, they sometimes chat with a generous librarian who sometimes helps me out. In the future, I'd like to record these chats so other students and I may review them.

Guest Lecturer

Guests may Skype into a class to give a talk or take questions from students.

I've heard that some teachers use Skype for language instruction. They have their students talk to students in other countries.

If you think of more ways to use Skype for teaching, please let me know!

Call me!
get your own Skype "call me" button

Note: If Skype doesn't work for you, try Gizmo!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Not Much of a Reader

The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.

Jack London, "To Build A Fire"

Google Buys Writely

Google has acquired Writely, so now I don't have to worry about waking up one morning to find Writely gone like the dodo.

I just hope this doesn't portend an onslaught of targeted ads based on the contents of Writely documents!

Hear an audio piece about the acquisition from Future Tense.

Remlap Knowledge Base & Live Support

I've been experimenting with the Remlap Knowledge Base. It's a hierarchical and relational database with more than one very cool feature. My favorite feature of this program, however, is live support.

As you can see in this screenshot (in the upper right corner) a "help online" icon is built into the interface. The programmer who offers technical support for the program shows users when he's online and ready to chat by activating that icon. When he's not available, the icon switches to "help offiline."

When one clicks the icon, a chat window pops up, poking the supportive programmer and summoning him to chat.

This is precisely what I try to do with my students when we use Skype. Yes, there's a time management issue. But I have not found that being online and available to students has been an imposition on me. Usually, I can answer their questions in less than a minute, and doing so saves us days of email tag.

Next, I would like an equivalent of the "help online" icon, which I could embed in a web page, that would let my students know I'm logged in to Skype when they're not.


Call me!

This button (above) activates skype. It was the best I could do. If you have skype on your computer and click it, skype should open and automatically call me. One is supposed to be able to modify the icon so it lets people know when one is logged in to skype. However, I could not set my options to allow others to see when I'm logged in. Maybe that function has been suspended?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Another Little Flash MP3 Player

This one comes from . It makes use of an XSPF playlist.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Drafting, Reiterated . . .

I just heard an alarming rumor. It seems some people are saying that people who write well always write well the first time around. This is a lie! Most writers have to write something many times before it sings.

Maybe, to reinforce the point, one should write drafts side by side. Today I was using the Kate text editor that comes with Knoppix. Kate can do vertical splits. In other words, Kate can show the same file in both sides of a split window, and Kate can split the window vertically (Word can do it horizontally, but I'm not sure it can do it vertically).

Link to screenshot.

Do this and you'll never forget to let yourself take several whacks at a text, just like the pros.

Update: One could even use a program like winmerge to compare drafts of a document. 2.0: Improved Support for PDF

The latest version of includes improved support for PDF elements. Now you can use OpenOffice Writer to include bookmarks, hyperlinks, headings (for a table of contents), and popup comments in documents exported to PDF.

Beautiful Evidence

"Edward Tufte's new book, Beautiful Evidence, is now at the printer and should be available in May 2006."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Podcasting Essentials

If you only had an hour to start teachers podcasting, what would you tell them?

This is the question I face. This month I will give a presentation on podcasting to an audience of English teachers. I want to keep the presentation simple and straightforward, yet I also want it to stand as a useful introduction to podcasting.

I plan to talk about PodProducer, Audacity, microphones, the Iriver, ID3 tags, RSS feeds (including ITunes compatability), Aggregators, Podcatchers, and podcast pedagogy.

Have I missed anything?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Thanks A Lot

This morning I played games with the child. We played cats. We played dogs. We played hippos.

"Isn't Daddy fun to play with?" asked Mommy.

"Yes, he is," replied the child. And then, to me, "Daddy, I had no idea you would be this way today."


Reconstructing this blog's sidebar in the wake of the Traksy debacle, I've added a feature I call "blasts."

Blasts are shorter than regular blog entries. Regular blog entries tend to take the form of short essays. Blasts, on the other hand, are comparable to postit notes or items in an outline.

Blasts are not my idea. But I have implemented them in a different way. My blasts come from another weblog,, via that blog's atom feed embedded in the template of this blog with a script from Feed2JS.

Blasts are just quick thoughts too short for an essay, but they pack enough oomph to provoke thought or action.

I agree with the outliner enthusiasts who suggest that, in the future, blogging software should support both the more usual, essay style entry and outline style entries as well.

Listen . . . The Whales are Singing

Hear the whales.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oh, That Beadle!

Well, if you thought the haunting of my office was scary, take a look at this visit from the old general himself on the occasion of my school's Convocation this Tuesday.

If you asked me, he looks pretty good for a man who's been dead ninety-one years.

Note: This performance is an excerpt from a much longer video of the whole Convocation ceremony. I created the clip with MediaMatrix, a project of the University of Michigan's "award winning, world class, humanities and technology research center."

MediaMatrix helps you create web based presentations and slideshows that incorporate selected streaming media.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Better Presentations

Looking to hone your presentation skills? Check out this list of highly regarded presentations, courtesy of Garr Reynolds.

Learn from the masters.

public speaker

Is My Office Haunted?

A recent eletromagnetic sweep of the 120 year old building in which I work revealed possible supernatural activity in the hall outside my office.

Could my office be haunted by General Beadle's ghost?