Halloween at Home

Went trick-or-treating with Evan this evening – the first year that he actually got into it. He had fun, and I was actually dragging him near the end because he was exhausted (no – not a Bataan death march, just a very busy day).

Our pumpkinEvan in costume

And, the last pic I took tonight, I think is one of my favorites because of the sense of motion… Trick-or-treaters outside our house

Second Life

I just did a very dangerous thing. I downloaded the latest version of Second Life – one of those immersive massively multiplayer doowackies that I never really got into. I just threw an hour away twiddling bits to make my Second Life character kinda sorta look like me, then starting to wander around Tutorial Island. The environment is really quite cool, and I had a lot of “hey, this would be cool for a blended learning thing…” moments.

Here’s what my character looks like now: Second Life

There appear to be some rendering artifacts – in close-up view, my character has hair (but not much more than I do) and his pockets don’t contain inter-dimensional rifts. Apparently, my video card isn’t quite up to snuff…

If you sign up for a Second Life account (your first “Basic” account – what I got – is free), drop my name “Darcy Malaprop” and my character will get a few fake shekels for the referral.

Participation and Competence

Brian just linked to a great description of how blogging can affect reading and writing in the classroom. The blog he linked to is one I hadn’t come across in my travels, so I’m dutifully subscribing. Some good thinking about this stuff in Konrad’s blog.

What hit me in this post was the simple and clear demonstration of the power of an online community of practice to support the “real” physical face-to-face community. In Konrad’s case, it changed his perception of “reading” his student’s work – it became a participatory experience – more of a conversation or dialog than a fire-and-forget writing exercise. That, through blogging (or more appropriately, through participation in a dynamic community of practice), his evaluation of students shifted to become somewhat more holistic. Less brute-force “marking” of writing, to more of a comprehensive assessment of competence.

That’s when it occurred to me that I have stopped “marking” or “correcting” and started reading. I do not mean that my students are no longer evaluated, that they no longer receive grades. They do. But my approach has changed dramatically. It’s taken over a year but I have become a teacher-blogger and I am recording this change because it is crucial to my thesis and my professional development. I have become a teacher who reads, who looks forward to reading, who comments on student entries and can’t wait to see the responses, who can’t wait to see where the conversation takes us. I have become a teacher who sees my students as writers, as people with voices who can contribute to and initiate insightful conversations.

That is such a powerful shift, and shows some of the real benefits that this blogging stuff can provide if applied appropriately.

I’m looking forward to reading through Konrad’s blog, and his stuff on connectivism, etc…

Locomotive Ruby on Rails Distro for MacOSX

I just grabbed the Locomotive distro of Ruby on Rails for MacOSX – what a nice package! Includes the latest build of Rails, a fresh copy of Ruby, all of the database connectors, RMagick and ImageMagick, some AJAX libraries, and a bunch of other stuff to play with. Best part is – it’s all self-contained in the Locomotive application, so it won’t affect any of the other bits installed on my system.

Looks like the best Rails development system so far – no idea if it translates to a server very easily though.

I’m going to try to force myself to play with Rails for at least a couple of hours every week to see what I can get it to do. This is a good headstart for that…

A few days with OmniWeb 5.1.2

I’m really digging OmniWeb. It’s got lots of cool stuff that work as I would expect them to, not as if they were ported from some other source. It behaves as a great MacOSX app should.

Over the weekend, I was writing up a blog post, and when I got to about 75% done, I opened a new tab to get a link. OmniWeb crashed. Crap! OmniCrashCatcher pops up, and I filed what would perhaps be described as a more-colourful-than-necessary bug report. The next morning, however, I fired up OmniWeb again, and all of the tabs that I had opened were restored for me – and, get this – the contents of the WordPress blog post entry form were also resurrected for me, right at the point OmniWeb had crashed! I didn’t lose a thing! That’s just plain awesome. It never occurred to me to even check to see if the form values would be resurrected after a crash, so I assumed the post was gone. Of course, it wasn’t Shakespeare or anything, but still – that’s just cool.

On top of that, the “live” source editor rocks quite nicely, and the “Get Info” pane for any page is the best I’ve seen. (it would be even better if it allowed you to get the full URL for every resource, but that’s so minor)

So far, the OmniWeb experience has rocked. No plans to switch off of it as a default browser. But, there are a few little niggles that keep me launching Safari occasionally.

  • The “AJAX” stuff in Flickr doesn’t seem to like OmniWeb. I’d thought maybe the ad-blocking stuff was borking it, so turned it off. No joy. Can’t add photos as favorites. Can’t edit titles/descriptions of photos. Can’t even open Organizer for some reason… Have to launch Safari for that – which is odd, since they’re both based on WebKit – perhaps OmniWeb’s embedded WebKit is a bit off?
  • Some sites just don’t want to display in it. No idea if it’s a weird browser-sniffing thing going on or not, but I’ve had to launch Safari a couple of times to view things.
  • CSS display seems to be a bit off – things like the Flickr photos section of my blog display weirdly – and there are other sites that don’t behave as they do in Safari.

But, those are relatively minor nits to pick. Hopefully easy fixes (either in configuration on my end, or in code at OmniGroup). I’m just glad I’m putting my OmniWeb license to use again :-)

Update: Oh, yeah. Just realized that one of my machines has to run OmniWeb in “unlicensed mode” since the licensing system checks the LAN for other copies using the same serial number. That means I’d get to buy a license for every machine that I want to run OmniWeb on – not cool. I paid for the OW license, but I’d have to shell out another $29US for each machine I want to use it on. I could see a token fee – $5 or $10 per additional machine – but not a whole ‘nother license…

Update: I also find that I really miss Safari’s page-load-status-as-thermometer-in-Location-bar style of loading indicator. Makes it much easier to see status in my peripheral vision – in OW, I have to seek out the rotating “loading” widget, then click on it to see how much of the page is left to load. Much less elegant.

Attention is about more than advertising

One of the things that Blogbridge has allowed me to do is rather dramatically increase the number of feeds I actively track. That includes re-subscribing to Scoble’s new WordPress.com blog.

Yesterday, something came through Scoble’s feed that sent a chill through me. He was talking about how he finally understands “Attention” as described by Steve Gillmor. He proceeds to outline what can only be described as Big Brother, watching everything you do online, for the sole purpose of placing better advertising to beg you to click on links.

You’ve bought some binoculars, and you’re surfing something about football, and Skynet figures out you’re interested in going to a football game, and BOOM it pulls in all kinds of ads for you to click on.

He describes a system of user activity monitoring and analysis so amazingly complex that it could estimate what you’re going to eat for breakfast next Wednesday, and figures the best way to put that to work is to place advertising.

Never mind the privacy issues this raises – the last thing I want is eBay, Google, Amazon.com, Flickr, Blogbridge, and gods know who else conspiring to share what they know about me so that they can attempt to know everything for the purposes of ad placement.

When that happens, I think I’ll just drop off the grid. I’ll have to go through a pretty heavy withdrawal period, and perhaps some kind of Betty Ford clinic would be required, but I’d rather unplug than put up with that kind of invasive (even if only behind the scenes) tracking of my “Attention”. Also, they’d have to keep an eye out for Arnold, trying to take out Skynet before it gains sentience…

Also, Scoble mentioned that he’s “starting to get scared by this kind of world” – and clarifies in the comments that he’s not scared of the implications of this stuff – just that Microsoft may not be in the game. Holy. Crap. Yeah – That’s what I’m scared of. There’s a global network watching me, and Microsoft feels it needs to have it’s finger on the pulse…

Calgary Peacetime Disaster Plan

I’d emailed my alderman this summer to ask for a copy of the disaster response plan for Calgary, in light of recent events. I figured it would be a Good Idea™ to give the plan a once-over before a disaster struck, since by then we’d be too busy feasting on the goo in each other’s skulls to read the instructions about how to evacuate a city of 1 million people.

I just got a response back, after it was forwarded to the Fire Department. The response had a boilerplate “this is confidential, intended for the recipient of this email only” but that’s just silly. Here’s the response I got.

Mr. Norman, I apologize for the delay in getting back to you on this matter and acknowledge your concern on such an important topic with all that we have witnessed in world events recently. To answer your question, the Calgary Peacetime Disaster Plan is not a public document. It is held by heads of the various agencies that would be required to respond in an emergency, Civic Administration leaders and our elected officials. Unfortunately, the response plans and capabilities of most major organizations, including municipalities has been removed from the public domain following a worldwide change in security vigilance following the events of September 11, 2001. Calgary’s Plan is based on an all-hazards approach that outlines a coordinated response to those incidents most likely to have a major impact on our city. The incidents range from floods and other natural disasters to “man-made” events such as a hazardous materials spill. These events form the subject matter for regular exercises that are developed to practice the communication and team decision making capabilities of our agency heads, and to ensure that the plans and capabilities of the resources in those agencies is adequate to deal with the emergencies most likely to affect us. As far as the specific evacuation plans that you refer to, Calgary Disaster Services would work with the Calgary Police Service, EMS, Calgary Fire, Calgary Transit, Calgary Roads, the RCMP and other stakeholders to expedite an evacuation in a time of emergency based on the details of that incident. For example, it would not be prudent to say that in a disaster residents of Tuscany should evacuate south via Nose Hill Drive and Stoney Trail to the Trans Canada Highway and out of town. That information may lead you into the hazard area for the incident. The City of Calgary’s Disaster Social Services and the Canadian Red Cross have procedures in place for establishing reception centres where citizens can register and have their food, clothing and shelter needs accommodated in an emergency. They would also provide assistance with locating relatives who may be separated from their families. There are many things that you can do to enhance your own preparedness, including:
  • Develop a supply of necessities to provide for you and your family for the first 72 hours after the onset of an emergency. Access for responders may be limited after the initial impact of an incident, so the best thing you can do to aid your survival capabilities is to have water, food and medication stores for all those in your household.
  • Establish a plan within your network of family and friends to contact each other and ensure their safety in an emergency. This can also include sharing the duties to contact or check on any family members who may have special needs.
I hope this helps answer some of your concerns with regards to Calgary’s state of preparedness. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions. Tony M. Messer A/Coordinator Calgary Disaster Services

If our ability to respond to an emergency, and to keep the city safe from “terrorists” is based on keeping the response plan a secret, we’re pretty screwed. Security through obscurity isn’t security.

I’ve created a (so far empty) wiki page in case anyone thinks it’s a good idea to have a response plan available to the people affected.

Here’s my response to Tony (copied to the Alderman):

Tony, thank you for your response. I am more than a little concerned about the need for secrecy regarding the disaster response plan. Security through obscurity is not security (or, worse, is a false sense of security). It would be better for the plan to be a public document so that the people of Calgary knew what was expected of them, and Calgary Disaster Services would have to prepare to truly secure any valuable plans/assets rather than hoping nobody knows about them. I hope you’ll reconsider the decision to keep the response plan a secret. I’ve created a wiki page at http://wiki.ucalgary.ca/page/CalgaryDisasterResponsePlan in case any members of the public want to coordinate a plan on their own.

Superballs in San Francisco

Oh, man! I want to do this. Somehow, I think I’d get a citation or something. Sony dropped a bajillion superballs down the hilly streets of San Francisco to film an ad for their new Bravia line. Not in the market for a new TV, but the ad sure looks hella fun.

Sony Bravia Superballs in San Francisco

I’m sure glad I wasn’t on the cleanup crew for this shoot. First, The City has the roving bands of parrots on Telegraph Hill, now it will have mysterious roving bands of bouncing superballs for years to come…

Akismet: WordPress Antispam

I just installed Akismet – the “official” antispam solution for WordPress. Ok. It’s not really official, but it’s written by PhotoMatt – the lead of WordPress – which makes it official enough.

I’m a bit nervous about deactivating Spam Karma 2 – which has performed absolutely flawlessly (and silently), but am curious about the distributed spamblocking approach used by Akismet, as opposed to a personal blacklist used by SK2.

And, if Akismet fails miserably, it’s just a matter of clicking two links in the Plugin Manager to go back to SK2. One caveat to Akismet: you need a WordPress.com API key to activate it. Download a copy of Flock to get one if you don’t have one already.

Browsers (again)

I’ve been playing with different browsers for the last couple of weeks (Safari, Flock, Firefox, Mozilla, Opera, iCab), and kept coming back to Safari because it just plain “feels” right. The other apps feel ported, in some parts poorly. Then, Les Orchard reminded me of OmniWeb. I’ve always loved OmniWeb, but the rendering engine was lacking in older versions, and the recent version switched to a custom WebKit framework which works quite well.

OmniWeb 5 has a lot of really nice features. The tab implementation is simply second to none. The app behaves as a first-class citizen on MacOSX. It’s got some handy stuff like a tearable textarea widget (so you can hit a button and the textarea box becomes its own window, with resize controls, and export/import functions). The source view rocks, too (with live editing as well), and it’s got a decent built-in adblocker.

And, it also offers bookmark syncing via WebDav! (note: U of C webdav info) I’m going to give it a shot as a default browser for awhile…

Here’s a screenshot of the textarea widget from the WordPress post entry screen, with the “torn off” windowed version as well: OmniWeb textarea widget