Never be for — or against

I just got a table at Starbucks and sitting down to continue work on a new project — TBA.  But during my walk up to the coffee shop, I was listening to some TEDTalks podcasts, and was struck dumb by something that Dan Gilbert said in his presentation, “How we are deceived by our own miscalculations of the future.”  Quoting a Zen master, he said…

If you want truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.  The struggle between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the mind’s worst disease.” — Sent-ts’an

Perhaps the hardest disease we’ll ever fight…

Conference Choir Loft

I am such a weak man.  I went down stairs last night to buy a Diet Coke and look what I came back up to my room with.  Dark chocolate cake with raspberry filling.  I am such a weak man!

You know you’re in Texas when an attractive woman hobbles up, introduces herself as your host for the conference, and then apologizes for her limp, explaning that she has “..a bird dog injury.” 

It’s been a great week, though quite exhausting.  At least I had a few undisturbed hours in my hotel room yesterday afternoon and evening — mostly preparing for today’s luncheon keynote for the Texas TECSIG meeting — a brand new keynote.  Yesterday I spoke to the Target Tech group at the Airport (Austin) Hilton.  These were representatives from schools, districts, and collaboratives who have earned ARRA funding to implement their innovative proposals.  It was something of an odd venue.  I have presented indoors, outdoors, in basketball gyms, and even a couple of tents (“Be Healed!!”).  But yesterday was the first time I’ve ever presented in a former Air Force command bunker.  Very odd!

The first day of this particular tour was in Iowa (32F [0C]), and their ITEC conference, my first conference in quite a while.  What struck me was the half forgotten conversations that spring out of these conferences — and the one that resonated most was several tweets about how some of the sessions were “..preaching to the choir.”  Often, my response to this lament is that we are teaching the choir to sing as much as preaching to them.  Someone mentioned in the Tweet-Up how we come to these conferences to learn new language for the messages we’ve been delivering at home for months (or years.)

But I feel that this is not enough — especially if we want the more experienced and forward reaching educators to continue to attend these conferences.  I was wondering about a dedicated room at the conferences that might be called the “Choir Loft.”  This is where conference attendees would go, who find no sessions, at a particular time slot, that appeal to them (that teach them something new).  It would act like a blogger cafe, but set up explicitly for conversation.   It could still be set up like a lounge, with chairs and tables for small group conversations, but also facility for larger group un-conference still learning.

The Tweet-Up, at ITEC, was very much like this, though we had to find a table, though we had to continue to slide back as more people joined us.  It was a conversation about what people wanted to explore.  For some of the Tweople there, it may have been the highpoint of the event (my keynote aside).

Well, I need to find a picture of a bird dog for my opening visual this morning.

A PLN Activity — Does anyone know what this is

Click the images to enlarge

Brenda pointed these out to me yesterday evening. They are in a wooded area of our backyard, at the base of a Maple tree. It’s been raining and yesterday was the most humid day I’ve seen this summer (75% — not at all high for most NC summers).

They are mushrooms of some variety, but I have never seen something like this before.

So you know what it is?

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The Evolution of Evolution

Screen shot of The Preservation of Favoured Traces.  It illustrates the evolution of ideas across the six editions of On the Origin of Species.

This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen for a long time.  Data visualization is one of the most interesting applications of computing that I know of today, using a variety of tools to take huge amounts of data to enable that data to communicate itself accurately, compellingly, and, often, with beauty.

This one was done by data-viz guru, Ben Fry.  The story is about the evolution of scientific ideas, and our natural sense that they come in a flash, full blown, and find themselves written and published for posterity, before the flash fades.  Yet, the book that we read today, Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species,” is the sixth edition of the book.

The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself. (( Fry, Ben. “On the Origin of the Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces.” Ben Fry. 8 Sep 2009 <>. ))

The addition of “by the Creator” was added in second edition.  The phrase “survival of the fittest” — actually attributed to British philosopher Herbert Spencer — didn’t appear until the fifth edition. 

What Fry has done here, is to represent this evolution of ideas by graphically illustrating the changes that occurred in each chapter, with each new edition.  It is a fascinating thing to watch.  You can even lay your pointer on a specific tiny bar, and the text represented by that bar will pop out.  Brilliant!

Have fun with On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces.

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Some Pictures I Took over the past few Days…

I’m almost giddy with joy that I have no work-related travel for almost three weeks — so Brenda tells me.  Not sure how she feels about it.  I’m planning a writing project for the time, but mostly thrilled at the opportunity to establish something of a routine — to plant some roots, knowing that I’ll be yanking them back up again the next time I head over to RDU.

I just downloaded into iPhoto some of the pictures I’ve taken with my new Canon pocket camera, and I’m pretty impressed.  Thought I’d share.

There are few cities as magnificent to fly over as Chicago.

I’m pretty sure this was in O’Hare Airport. It was running TV wrapped around the poll. It was extremely impressive looking, and it made me want to know how they did it. However, when it comes right down to it, a TV that you have to walk around can’t be very practical.

I was amazed at the clarity of the sky and the greenery of crops and forest. This is quite unusual for the end of August, which usually has the sky a skim milk misty haze.

This is a wind mill farm in the same general area. I wonder if we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this. I know it’s early, but it seems that stimulus money is being used to solve small problems, not big ones.

I was stunned by the contrast of shades in this collection of plants in front of the hotel I stayed in. I learned afterward that the hotel was owned by the Onida Tribe — hence, the attached casino.

OK, so could you get use to working in a high school where a horse farm is what you see walking out of the front doors. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived this close to nature and farm land — but “Yes!” I could get use to this.

After many hours of delays, both by American Airlines and United, we’re flying home, Chicago shining brilliantly out the left window. If it looks like we’re beneath the 10,000 where operation of electronics is allowed, I’ll just say that my new Cannon has one corker of a telephoto setting.

A little bit closer in. The image is not clear because of the lack of light and the length of time that they shutter had to remain open to collect enought light.

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Nutrition and Web 2.0

Flickr Photo by MacKensie Cornelius

Ann Flynn, of the NSBA, asked me about K-12 Nutrition Staff who are using Web 2.0 tools to communicate with students or parents.  Are your schools Twittering menus, soliciting comments on the quality of their meals through blogging, offering social bookmark links or RSS feeds for nutrition related sites, adding resources to the school’s Facebook network, or soliciting contributions to the cafeteria’s policies via a wiki?

How do you think K-12 nutrition staff might use the collaborative web to improve their services?

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Odysseies of Learning

My friend, Janice Friesen, recently spent five weeks traveling throughout the Mediterranean.  Her husband is a religious studies scholar, and I assume this had something to do with the trip.  As part of the experience, Janice (an instructional technologist in Austin, Tx.) kept a blog describing what they were seeing and learning.  Before leaving, she invited social studies classes to monitor and discuss what she was writing.

I’ve read through parts of it, post excursion, and it’s fascinating.  The Mediterranean an area of the world that I have only glanced at (Barcelona, 1997), but would love to tour. 

What’s more, I see this sort of thing as a potentially motivating way to get students to talk about and challenge themselves to learn more about a region — by reading travel blogs.  When covering Roman life, the class might read those entries and then generate some questions from what Janice has seen and been motivated to write about.  Then, through discussion, the questions can be refined into research tasks and then, perhaps, personal blog writing, about digital tours.

You can read Janice’s blog at:

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The Happiest Country on the Planet

According to the “Happy Planet Index,” Costa Rica is home to the most contented people on Earth.  In addition to happiness, the index also factors in ecological footprint and life expectancy. (( “Costa Rica Tops List of ‘Happiest’ Nations.” World5 July 2009 Web.7 Jul 2009. <>. ))

Flickr Photo by B K
Top Ten Happy Nations

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Dominican Republic
  3. Jamaica
  4. Guatemala
  5. Vietnam
  6. Columbia Colombia
  7. Cuba
  8. El Salvador
  9. Brazil
  10. Honduras

Established by London-based New Economics Foundation, the index started evaluating countries in 2006, when the number one happy country was Vanuatu, followed closely by Columbia and Costa Rica.  In the 2009 listing, the top ten countries in the list are all in the Western Hemisphere and south of Mexico, except for Vietnam, which holds position five.  The are listed to the right.

The United Kingdom, which was 108 last year has advanced to 74.  Of the 29 bottom-of-the-list countries, all are in Africa except for Luxembourg (122), United Arab Emirates (123), and Kuwait (128).  Next to them, at number 30 from the bottom and 114 from the top is the United States. (( Wikipedia contributors, “Happy Planet Index.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2009. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web.7 Jul 2009. <>. ))

Is this important?

Is this something we should pay attention to.

Is it, in any way, the responsibility of our education system,
to help our children,
our citizens,
to be happy?

Of course, if you don’t like bugs, then Costa Rica may not be the place for you.

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An Interesting Picture

Trains are so unpredictable in the South.  My understanding is that the freight lines own the tracks.  So if a freight train comes through, it has the right-of-way, and the passenger trains must move to a side rail and wait.  We were six minutes late leaving Raleigh and nearly two-and-a-half hours late arriving in Washington.  No complaints, though.  Flying could have been worse, and I was much MUCH more comfortable.  Business class — sixty-two bucks.

Serendiptously capture Fawn
Click the Image to Enlarge

I mostly worked and took pictures out the window, and here’s an interesting one.  In northern Virginia, the tracks were bordered by marshes, topped with fresh green lily pads.  I took lots of shots, trying to get a good one, and if you look at the bottom and slightly right of center on this one, you’ll see that I captured a fawn.  Not all that unusual.  We see them in our back yard at home near the middle of the city.  But it was one of those iPhoto surprises.

Another surprise was the fairly intense rain (and hail) storm that decided to erupt as I got (walking) a half-mile from the hotel.  Fortunately, I got under an awning with my luggage.  Unfortunately, it was with about six panhandlers.  But after I ran out of quarters, we settled back and enjoyed the occasion.

But I’m here now — and EduBloggerCon starts in just a couple of hours.

Also, I’m trying a web-based blog editor called WriteToMyBlog.  You can see if it works…