Why I Stopped Playing with Rockets

For a couple of months, I was spending hours everyday, building space vessels and launching them into orbit and beyond. I was hooked and reading and watching everything I could find on astrophysics and space exploration.

So why did I quit, cold turkey? Like so many things, I reached a point of proficiency where to advance further, would require an additional investment.

My photo of the Orion Nebula
Photo of the Orion Nebula, captured with a Nikon D7100 camera & Tamron 600mm lens.

With astrophotography, I struggled to get a descent photo of a nebula and in another season one of Andromeda galaxy. But I realized that I had reached the most that I could expect from my cludge of DSLR camera, telephoto lens and tripod for a telescope. To accomplish better pictures would require an investment in more hardware.

With Kerbal Space Program, I was not going to actually land on the surface of another moon or planet with a heavy upgrade in my mathematical understanding. The prospect of a deepdive into “rocket science” was not without its appeal — if I was younger.

So, I’ve left Kerbal and the space race behind, spending more time on projects that I might actually finish that might also be of value to others.


Read this Hack Ed Speech

It’s a must-read, the text of (Hack Education) Audrey Water’s recent speech to a Canadian audience in Alberta last week.

I do not recommend its reading as a curtsey to Canadian education thought leaders, as much as to point out a disturbing trend that is not limited to the ongoing education conversation.

This is something of a personal rant, but it has confounded me, the support that many of my country’s poor and aging pay to political elements whose legislative activities serve the rich and powerful — until I realized that there is a narrative being told that in America anyone can become rich and powerful and that we should all protect our potential membership in that club.  

In other words, if you aren’t willing to be the first to monetize it, then you shouldn’t expect to be part of the pitch.

Shame on us!

(CC) Image from Bill David Brooks   

It Just a CTRL-C Now

When I started teaching myself to program computers, I had to have a book.  Radio Shack had a great book that came with their TRS-80 micro-computers (they were called micro-computers back then).  It was simple, well sequenced and funny.  Apple IIes came with a book, but not so good.  Learning PHP and MySQL also required books –– really thick ones.

It’s different today.  Anything I’m trying to get a computer or a web site to do, someone else has already tried and succeeded, and with the help of others who have already tried and succeeded.  Today, you simply tap into the conversations that they had, and you learn as well.  The result has been an expansion of knowledge about coding and an explosion of ideas for how to use that coding.

Anyway, I’ve been working for a number of months on one possible feature for Citation Machine that I suspect could greatly improve its functionality.  I’ve seen it before on other sites, but could not figure it out in such a way that it would work on all major browsers and both platforms (haven’t tested Linux yet).

It may sound trivial, but if all you had to do is submit a citation form and then simply press CTRL-C to copy the citation, and then CTRL-V to paste it into your document – well I think that’s huge.  Until now, you had to click into the box for the citation, and then double click or triple click to select/highlight the entire citation, and then CTRL-C and CTRL-V to move it into your document.

Now, thanks to the conversations of dozens of programmers who are better than me, you just submit the form and CTRL-C for the bibliographic citation.  To get the footnote you can double or triple click there, or click the [Select] button beneath it to have it selected/highlighted so that you can CTRL-C.  Same with the parenthetical citation.

Please comment if this causes any problems for you.

Is it Important Enough to Collaborate?

As a matter of disclosure, Ethan Warlick, whose comment I am responding to here, is my nephew. He will be graduating from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington next month and moving on to the real world of work and learning by joining a social media startup. I’m not sure if this is why I’ve elevated my response to full blog-status, or because of the story he tells, that..

..one of my roommates recently received a failing grade on a paper for “plagiarism.” Whether it was or wasn’t, he says he “missed a quotation mark,” I think that it will be interesting to learn new ways to deal with plagiarism from the summit! Especially from a collegiate perspective, as I hear about issues on campus constantly.

I scanned through a number of definitions of plagiarism from a number of sources and the most inclusive one came from Wiktionary, “The act of plagiarizing: the copying of another person’s ideas, text or other creative work, and presenting it as one’s own, especially without permission.”(Plagiarism, 2013)

There seem to be three parts here, or three questions. Did he copy the work of another person? Did he present the work as his own? ..and Did he get permission to use the work? Considering these three questions, I would have to read the offending paper to determine if he committed plagiarism.  But in my own work, attributing the expressed ideas of another person is more than just punctuation.

When I write (or draw, paint, compose, etc.) something, I am presenting it as my work — a representation of my ideas. When the expressed ideas of another adds value to my work, and I include the expression of those ideas, then it is my responsibility to credit the creator of that expression; and that is not simply a matter of punctuation.

Quotation marks simply, “..set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else.” (“Purdue online writing“) They indicate ownership, but they do not attribute the owner. To avoid plagiarism, I must identify the creator and do so in a way that the reader will not fail to recognize the information’s source and the roll that it plays within my work. That credit best falls within the text along with some form of assistance to the reader who wants to validate its accuracy, reliability and validity.  If Ethan’s roommate credited the work with a phrase such as, “John Battelle recently said in a lecture..” or “Berkman Center fellow, David Weinberger wrote in …” Well, the writer isn’t presenting the work as his own, and is not plagiarizing.

So, if the roommate was simply careless in his punctuation, then was the failing grade fair? From a student’s point of view — that is to say, academically — then perhaps it was not fair. However, from a learner’s point of view, especially if the learner is preparing himself for endeavors that will rely on written communication, then I might consider it a fair, if not authentic, response.

When we finish school and begin to work (and continue to learn), we can still fail by leaving out a quotation mark. A potential client, customer, or employer can, and often does decide to choose another provider because it appears that I have used the words of another as my own. In my opinion, the concept of intellectual property should be an integral part of our basic notions of literacy — receiving, perhaps, even more attention than it already does.

But that said, I’ll let you in on a little secret; something that my teachers never shared. In the world, after formal schooling, we almost never do anything, that’s important, alone. It was one of my surprises when I left the solitude of classroom teaching to work more directly with other educators (district office). Those other professional educators were constantly asking me and each other to read their writing before they sent it; and I adopted the habit myself, when what I needed to say was important. Almost every day Brenda and I ask each other to read our emails before we hit the send button, and we usually catch each other’s careless mistakes. When the conveyance of an idea is important, then it takes more than one head to effectively construct its expression.

This leads me to wonder, are your school writings important enough that instructors encourage you to read each other’s work? ..or are they just grammar?


Plagiarism. In (2013). Wiktionary. Wikimedia. Retrieved from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/plagiarism

Purdue online writing lab: How to use quotation marks. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/577/01/

Clipart, curtesy of http://internet.phillipmartin.info


So What is Plagiarism?

It’s a great question, that, like so many things, deserves a good answer and acknowledgement that the answer will be complicated. We too often treat plagiarism like many labels, red neck, communist, democrat, republican – black or white, right or wrong.  Gray areas complicate teaching, doesn’t it. But life happens in gray areas as do the ways that we use information.

  • American Copy Editors Society
  • Associated Press Media Editors
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • Online News Association
  • American Society of News Editors
  • Canadian Association of Journalists
  • Radio-Television Digital News Association
  • Local Independent Online News Publishers

A cluster of media organizations (see right) are organizing the National Summit on Plagiarism and Fabrication, which will begin April 5.  The participants, invited by the American Copy Editors Society, will be conducting research aimed at producing a practical set of recommendations for combating and dealing with plagiarism and fabrication.  Their conclusions will be presented at the ACES conference in St. Louis that begins on April 4.

It is hard to predict what will come out of the summit, but the conversations have already begun, much of it aimed at bringing some sanity to how we treat the practice. Roy Peter Clark tried to describe the difference between plagiarism and carelessness in a Poynter blog post,

A classic case of overcharging occurred in 2007 when journalism teachers at the University of Missouri condemned a colleague of plagiarism after he used quotes from a student newspaper in an opinion piece without attribution. I argued then that while the practice may have been sloppy, to call it plagiarism was like “shooting a fly with a bazooka.”

Clark goes on to suggest four books on the subject:

Citation Machine, MLA Footnotes

Contemporary literacy is a subject I’ve not written about in a while.  In fact, I’ve not been asked to talk about it at a conference in a number of months.  Is it a message that’s been received?  I don’t think so.  I continue to read comments on my blog promoting the integration of technology, like tech is the goal, rather than an essential tool for accomplishing the goal of contemporary learning-literacy.  

One element of this literacy is, in nature, ethical.  In a 2007 2¢ Worth blog post, I wrote

..it is now our ethical responsibility, as information consumers, to assure that the information you are using is accurate, reliable, valid, and appropriate to what we are trying the achieve.

And then,

It is equally our responsibility to assure and document that the information we are producing is accurate, reliable, valid, and appropriate. 1 

In another time, we were mere consumers of content.  Today we are full participants in the information economy and this compels us to accept new responsibilities that have, in my opinion, become a part of what it is to be literate today – contemporary literacy.  We are no long held only to the value of the information we consume, but also to the information that we pass on or produce.

This is what came to mind when I was browsing through my copy of MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers: Seventh Edition.  

Hey, you’ve got to find excitement where you can.  

I found a section with descriptions for formatting parenthetical notes (endnotes or footnotes) about cited sources.  It describes two kinds of notes for documenting sources.

  1. Content notes offering the reader comment, explanation, or information that the text cannot accommodate
  2. Bibliographic notes containing either several sources or evaluative comments on sources2

I added the footnotes form element just beneath the “Make Citation” button, so that it would not interrupt the normal flow of CM use.

If a parenthetical footnote is provided, then the footnotes box will appear here between the bibliographic and the in-text citations.

It seems that when we are all overwhelmed by information, much of it from other people like us, it is note merely a courtesy to cite our sources, but it is a practical measure to justify and invite readers to judge our sources’ accuracy, reliability and validity. We should make it easy for our readers to check its appropriateness to the message of our writing.

With these MLA documentation notes (footnotes or endnotes), we can provide that justification where the comment does not really fit into the prose of the document. 

All of this leads up to a new feature on Citation Machine. My plan is to add a textbox to all of the forms, where you have the option of typing in some “comment, explanation or information.”  Citation will formate the comment, along with proper reference to the source, into a footnote/endnote.

Thus far, I have only added the feature to MLA Government Publications.  It seems that when ever I make any type of change to CM, a few people get disoriented, not to mention madder than a mule chewing on bumble bees. 😉  I understand this.  What sets Citation Machine apart from most of the other citation generating sites is its simplicity and speed.  Change does not simplify.

So I thought I’d take this slow.  Look at the Government Publication form and try it out.  The note text shows up in a box just like the bibliographic and in-text citations.  Feel free to comment on this blog post and concerns or recommendations.

1 Warlick, David. “Ethics Challenges & Information.” 2¢ Worth. The Landmark Project, 26 Jan 2007. Web. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=858>.

2MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers: Seventh Edition. 7th. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009. 230. Print.

Long Summer of Programming

I’ve been working hard, over the past few months, working on Citation Machine. I hope that the changes haven’t been too obvious. The most striking changes have involved the operation of the help (<- help) buttons to the right of most form elements. You must now clicking them and when clicked, the fold-down messages should run much more smoothly. I’ve taking the mouse-over functions out, because I’m sure that the jumpiness caused pop-up messages reacting to mere mouse-overs was irritating. It irritated me.

For new features, I have added an iPad version. If you access Citation Machine with an iPad, it automatically switches over to a different version (http://citationmachine.net/iPad) that has a more mobile type of look and feel. The percentage of hits from mobile devices is still quite low, but with so many schools purchasing iPads for students, I suspect that more will be creating citations from their tablets. We’ll see.

I would like to add that I had to teach myself a lot in order to implement these changes, involving some deep researching of my own. I am reminded every day that to function in this day and time, we must all be master learners.

Slow New Look

A while back we asked some designer associates to suggest some redesign options for Citation Machine.  Our two number one goals were easy appeal and operation, and almost now change in the layout and operation of Son of Citation Machine.  This may seem like an impossibility to many of you, but I think that they achieved it.

Even at that, we’ve decided to pursue the (slightly) new look in phases.  It seems that any time I try to enact an improvement, many people “freak” — and rightly so.  The primary advantage of CM over other attribution tools is that it is quick and simply, and it stops being that when you have to figure out some new layout.
When you visit CM, you will see phase 1 of the change.  Mostly, it’s a new logo, new color for the main menu bar, oh! and the squirrel’s running the other way.
One important deviation from the new look suggested by the designers is that I’m keeping the squirrel.  I’ve become fond of the fellow.  Perhaps I can put a red hat on him.

Such Seriousness

It’s 6:50 (EST) in the morning and in the last 10 minutes Citation Machine has cited:

 7,138 books, 
   841 encyclopedia articles, 
10,738 journal articles, 
 1,946 magazine articles, 
 2,230 newspaper articles, 
   630 chapters from compiled works, 
 1,468 government or corporate documents,  
   546 interviews, 
    96 conference papers, 
22,731 web pages, 
 1,185 web-based media objects, 
   745 blog entries, 
    65 online discussion comments, 
   586 documents from databases, 
   240 radio or TV programs, 
   690 films or videos, and 
   195 lectures.  

So many very serious people out there.

Progress Report

New advertising to pay for additional RAM and the new uber server coming in December

This is a blog post that is way overdue.  A combination of economic calamity, rising young edtech stars, and a scheduled move to scale back my public speaking activities have had me in my home office — mostly working on Citation Machine.  Some associations with teams running similar web services have bent my attention toward improving this popular tool, that has gone a long time without proper attention and TLC.

I started out wanting and needing to do a total redesign of CM and how it worked, which inspired some rather enthusiastic resistance from commenters about why I should think that something that works so well should be so changed.  Although I still believe that the changes made the tool more efficient, efficiency is a personal thing, and practice plays a big part in what makes something work well.  So I lamented and went back to the old design.

Since then, I have spent some time adding sources to and populating out the Chicago style section, and making corrections to the other three citation formats.  I’ve also, for a long time, been interested in a way to automate some of the format building.  One way was to tie in to Google’s ISBN book lookup API, enabling researchers to simply type in a book ISBN, and having the available information plugged into the citation template — automatically.  That worked well until its use far exceeded Google’s limits on how many lookups were allowed per web service.

I’d also been interested in creating an automated way of doing Web address lookups and tried my hand at page scraping, which is a highly technical and occasionally successful way of writing software that looks at a web page and pulls pertinent information from its text.  This, surprisingly, worked far better than I’d expected, but not well enough to consistently make CM more efficient — and it cost way to much computer processing for CM’s web servers.  So I abandoned it for another solution.

Going back to the ISBN issue, I decided to take a leap and to start archiving book citations that included ISBN numbers.  This has quickly generated a database of, at this writing, 45,244 books.  So, if you have the ISBN of a book today, you can enter it at the opening CM screen (or APA or MLA book template pages), select either MLA or APA styles, and there’s a pretty good chance that the following template form will at least be partially filled out by the database.  This seemed such a good idea that I started archiving Web sites as well, by URL.  At this writing there are considerably more Web sites in the database than books, showing 859,668.  So entering a Web add (with http:// included) avails a fairly good chance of saving some time with at least partially completed template forms.

This, too, costs CPU power, so we had to double the RAM on one of the servers ($), and have concluded that we need to upgrade to a new uber server during the December holidays ($$$).  This is the reason for the additional advertising.  But increasing the size of CM’s pages to make room for a 200×300 pixel ad also provided more space for instructions.  So for each CM source there are now some fairly detailed instructions on each form element to be entered in the template form.

The thing that got me writing so early this morning is that I’ve done most of this in silence, in the closed confines of my man-cave office.  So I’m going to try to be more open about what I’m doing, not just here in my Blogger blog, but also through the Facebook page and perhaps even set up a Twitter account, posting periodic updates on what I’m doing with CM and why.

So pay attention!

Oh!  And then there’s the squirrel.  But we’ll talk more about him later 😉