While I’m on a Robot Kick

Robot Solving Rubic's CubeThe WIRED Gadget Lab headline reads, Robot Solves Rubik’s Cube in 6 Seconds.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries has serious problems on its mind: getting a robot to beat humans at solving Rubik’s cube being among the weightiest. According to TokyoMango, the robot looks at the six sides, calculates the solution in about 1 second, and then sets to work. Unlike a human, it doesn’t need a second look, and getting to the solution is simply a matter of mechanical speed. I can imagine many profitable uses for such a device.

It seems that robots may be doing more than just carrying things and us around.  It’s an old story to Science Fiction.

A Maturing New Technology

Toyota RobotFirst of all, there is nothing new about this.  It’s been a part of science fiction lore since the beginning of science fiction.  But as I have had more time to dip into my aggregator, I’ve noticed a handful of interesting articles about consumer robots. 

One thing that is interesting to me is that they are coming from the Japanese auto industry.  Toyota, on December 6, announced a range of robot products including a Violin playing android.  Click here to see a YouTube video.  A bit more practical is this Toyota ‘bot that provides mobility to those who are limited.

Honda is also well on its way with the Asimo.  this video story (Japanese) illustrates this quite agile robot.  I can’t find the stories now, but one of the more interesting features was these robots’ ability to plug themselves in when they need a charge — sort of “borg” -like!  One of the companies is developing teams of bots that work together as a single unit.

It might be interesting to ask students to speculate on how they might use robots in the future.  Mowing the grass?  Certainly!  But more autonomous robotic cars may be huge.  Nissan has announced GPS-enabled cruse control in its luxury lines, where cruise slows down as you approach a curve that your on-board map knows is there.

Of course, we’re far from there yet — Not perfect!

What Will it Look Like on YouTube

Foiled Robbery with a Tip CupI heard about this, while listening to a talk contest show on NPR, driving home from the coffeeshop this morning.  According to the initial newspaper report, the clerk at a Dunkin’ Donuts foiled at robbery attempt by bopping the assailant over the head with a “big heavy ceramic” tip jar.  When asked what was going through his head, the clerk, Dustin Hoffman (no relation to the actor), said that he was concerned about what the robbery was going to look like on YouTube

Hoffman was later interviewed on CNN, and reported that the possibility of the surveillance tape going to YouTube was only one of the many things he mentioned to the reporter.  But that was the focus for the story they went with in the newspaper.

The NPR contestant said something about YouTube becoming the moral compass of the Internet age.  Do you care about what you’ll look like on YouTube?

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See You at NECC

NECC 2008 LogoI received word this week that one of my session proposals was accepted for the 2008 National educational Technology Conference in San Antonio. Brenda’s already booked me a hotel, and blocked off the dates, so I look forward to seeing many of you there in June!

I’ve also added a Hitchhikr entry for the conference and set ncetc08 (necc08) as the tag that Hitchhikr will be aggregating. I wasn’t surprised to see that quite a few bloggers are already talking about the conference. Follow that conversation at http://hitchhikr.com/?id=310.

Student Voice…

David Jakes of The Strength of Weak Ties, posted a great article in the TechLearning Blog this week, The Kids are Alright. He refers to a new blog called Students 2.0 (http://students2oh.org/). Here is the “About Us” caption in the right panel of the blog page.

We are students: the ones who come to school every day, raise our hands with safe questions, and keep our heads down. Except, now we have a voice—a strong voice—to share our ideas through a global network.

It appears to be a rather small collection of high school students from Missouri, Vermont, Washington, Illinois, Hawaii, Korea, Scotland, and New York. It is not clear from the blog itself what this history is, though there is some hint in the comments on David’s T&L blog post and in Kevin Walter’s latest entry. That and a little research led me to this blog post by Clay Burell, Students 2.0 Edublog Pre-Launch: Help Spread the Splash. In it, he features a YouTube video that Jakes also embeds in his blog. I’m not going to re-embed it here. Just go the Clay or David’s blogs to watch, or go directly to YouTube for Students 2.0 Launch Teaser.

I find all of this especially interesting in light of the long conversation that ensued from my confessions about a student panel activity last week.

Added Later:
Ryan Bretag also wrote about this project in TechLearning, in Student Voices Wanted.

A Tough Week for Microsoft

Plucked from my aggregator at 5:56 AM:

April 2008. That’s the date when the notoriously progressive Dutch government goes open source. The plan was approved unanimously yesterday in a meeting of two parliamentary commissions. The policy dictates that government organizations at the national level must be ready to save documents in the Open Document Format (ODF) by April, and the state and local level by 2009. Use of proprietary software and file formats from the likes of Microsoft will have to be justified under the new policy. The government expects to save $8.8 million a year on city housing registers alone by making the switch.

You can read the AP article here.

Now it’s time to go do some real writing and sip some coffee.

North Carolina Science Blogging Conference

This is an event that I can enthusiastically recommend.  Their first one, 2007, was held on a cold day on the campus of the University of North Carolina.  The energy made the air hum as scientist, science educators, and science journalists gathered to talk, share, and learn about blogging and other collaborative tools for doing and talking science.  You can see a slide show of the sciencebloggingconference tagged photos at flicker here.

NC Science Blogging Conference Logo This year’s conference will be held on January 19, 2008 at the Sigma Xi Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.  The conference site is maintained on a wiki, and the program was established, in large part, by a collaborative effort of attendees.  Most sessions will be unconference in style, meaning that we’ll be learning from each other.

Most of the folks at the conference will be from across North Carolina, but people have registered from as far away as California, Montreal, the UK, Sweden and Serbia. There will be gallons of coffee, hundreds of Locopops popsicles, tons of Bullocks barbecue and more, including vegetarian options, to feed us all.

To learn more, go to the conference web site and go here to register.

Hope to see you in January!

Discerning Learners Make Discerning Consumers

I did a quick scan of my aggregator last night, just before going to bed — and I just have to say how wonderful it is to have time to scan my aggregator. I was stopped by this post from Jeff Utecht of The Thinking Stick.

Photo of Ads Machine in Shanghai TaxiWhile sitting in a taxi the other day I noticed that the taxi had installed new media ad machines on the back side of the passenger seat. So if you are sitting in the back of a taxi this is what you see (see small version of his original photo). Pretty cool! You can touch one of the icons at the button and it plays you the ad for that company. You can see the last button on the row also controls the volume. I clicked on one of the ads and it was an matching game where you flip over cards…

This interested me on several levels. First, I’ve long thought that ads should be selectable. Rather than watching the ads that have been selected for me, based on the demographic that watches this or that TV show — which I almost never do — I should have a place where I can see the ads for the products I am actually considering buying. I guess that web sites are like this, in a way, but I like to watch good advertising as well.

I also think that we’re going to see a lot more of this — often without a menu. As people are watching less programmed TV, advertisers are going to be looking for new places to put their work, and with flat panel TVs becoming less expensive, we’ll likely be seeing them just about everywhere that we are standing and looking for something to look at — like the backs of taxis, elevators, and gas pumps, each of these places where I’ve seen TV ads playing. Above urinals? It’s only a matter of time.  They must present their ads.  We must pay attention to know what we should buy.
It’s how we learn.

It’s how we were taught.

Put the information in my head and treat it with, “A spoon full of sugar…”

I think that if we want our students to become discerning consumers, we need to make them discerning learners. ..and I do not think that we can do this simply by teaching lessons on evaluating content. I think that we have to work as discerning teachers. Put those textbooks and other packaged teaching materials away, and teach from the real world of content. Teach from the library and teach from the Internet — and practice discernment in front of your students. Teach by asking questions about the information you teach from — that it’s a conversation.

Newer and Less Complex Style

You may have noticed that I’ve been playing around with WordPress Themes.  It relaxes me.  I’m hoping, as well, that using a much more minimal design and removing a lot of the RSS twitching I had going on in the sidebar would improve the performance — I’m hoping.

I’ve left the basics in the sidebar here, blogroll, which is now coming out of WordPress’ links rather than an aggregated RSS feed, and archive.  I had to include my travel photos as well, from Flickr, and I go no where without my ClustrMap. 

The rest, however, is still here.  Thanks to John McCreesh, in his Meall Dubh post, HOW-TO: Include an RSS feed in WordPress, I can now create separate templates by duplicating the page.php file, labeling it as a template, and the inserting the code that generates the RSS feed, which he includes in the post.

So, rather than waiting for the feed to be parsed and displayed in the sidebar every time you load the blog, you can click What I’ve been Reading in the sidebar, and view a page with a list of the latest blog posts I’ve read and flagged for sharing, the RSS feed generated by Google Reader.

I’d also hacked together a tag cloud generator, which was also being displayed in the side bar.  Now it is available on its own page, “Tag Cloud,” showing the most used terms in my latest 30 posts and the most used terms in the latest 120 comments.

Of course, I’m the only person I know who really cares about this 😉

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My Tiger Butter Tradition

Tiger Butter cooling in the frig...
Tiger Butter Cooling in the Frig…

Today is our annual reunion and holiday celebration of employees and alumni of the media and technology services (now, Instructional Technology Division) of the NC Department of Public Instruction.  It’s a covered dish where collards will be welcomed from Margaret Bingham, cheese cake from John Brim, and other regular and much anticipated treats.

From me, it’s always Tiger Butter.  Here’s the recipe for all interested.  Guaranteed to make you smile!

Tiger Butter

by Yvonne Bennett,
Greenville, South Carolina

1 pound white chocolate
1 (12-ounce) jar chunky peanut butter
1 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Combine white chocolate and peanut butter in top of a double boiler; bring water to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cool until chocolate and peanut butter melt, stirring constantly.  Spread mixture into a waxed paper-lined 15- x 10- x 1-inch jellyroll pan.  Pour semisweet chocolate over peanut butter mixture and swirl through with a knife.  Chill until firm.

Cut into 1 1/2- x 1-inch pieces.  Store in refrigerator.  Yield: about six dozen.

Bennett, Yvonne. “Tiger Butter.” Southern Living 1986 Annual Recipes. Comp. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House, Inc., 1986.