Saturday, December 31, 2005

Impermanence III: Empty Loading Bars

I've been oursourcing information management for a while and depend on external web sites for so much now: protopage for notes and resources, basecamp for project management, for over 300 bookmarks, and most recently I tagged all of my bloglines blogs in kinja. When these servers go down (recently on and kinja at the same time!) I'm left without the information when I need it. When all I can get is an empty loading bar I figure all we can really depend on is our brains, so busy trying to save all this information, pictures and dates and it can disappear in an instant. If loses its database contents we all just have to start over unless we've backed up somehow--even then it won't be easy. My students are more used to this than I am. They get a weak wireless signal and find that their essay hasn't saved to their network drive and they have to start over. And they do. Their only problem is learning temporary backup techniques, like saving to the desktop and resaving to the network when they have a stronger signal.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Impermanence II

I'm thinking of the context in which my students are growing up. I have to get around to preserving the last few years of digital images of my family, printing good photos, burning cds, dvds of captured video. It's so much work! So much easier when it was just on paper to begin with. Sometimes I think, what really needs to be documented, anyway? Then my daughter, 6, asks during a dinner table conversation, "What did you write about in your high school papers?" Lo and behold, I had them in a box in the closet, so I could actually pull out those bad papers and show her. It was worth it.

Impermanence I

This theme is the primary reason I wanted to start a blog. It's the idea that our ability to archive the events of our lives is undergoing a huge transformation and, indeed, the function of personal, family, cultural and human history as well. I'll have to flesh out this theme over several posts as it comes up in various contexts. The first is my feeling upon looking at the Internet Archive. It makes me dizzy. Why even try to preserve it all? Aren't we supposed to wait a while and let the historians decide what was important and the critics decide what's important now? Suddenly, because everyone CAN publish, everything is worth preserving and everyone expects an audience (even me!). I feel like the volume of the whole is diminishing the importance of the individual parts. The ability to publish so easily is a great thing, but I don't think we need to save it all. An eleven-year-old student recently asked me how she could "get on Google" because then she would be famous. I didn't know where to begin, but whatever I said didn't shake her notion that publishing guarantees fame.

The Importance of Titles

In online publishing titles are the portals to all the detailed information. If you don't want a post to disappear into obscurity as soon as it's posted a concise title is essential with so much for people to scan.

UPDATE: Labels (tags) remedy this problem, but Blogger didn't offer those at the time of this post.


The Czech Republic-based Amanita Design has just completed the sequel to their game from 2003, Samorost. I'm not really into computer games at all, but I love this and I've gotten my seven-year-old daughter into it--it's quite kid-friendly and she's now obsessed. The designer took photographs of mossy tree stumps and created an alien world in which you must help a hapless little fellow overcome challenges to complete his mission (for example, getting his dog back from some visiting aliens).

I love two things about this game. It's been created with a unique creative vision that invites you to take you time and enjoy the sounds and scenery everywhere you go, similar to the feeling of watching Hayao Miyazaki's Totoro. Second, it's about thinking through problems rather than developing quick mouse skills. There are only two parts in the game that I have to help my daughter with. The rest is just her thinking about how she will create all of the cause-and-effect circumstances to allow the little guy through each challenge. I would encourage my middle school students to play this. I think all kids need practice with this kind of problem-solving, and what better incentive to stick with it than this visually rich environment.

By the way, Samorost 1 and the first chapter of Samorost 2 are free and online. You can download the second chapter for $9.95 (well worth it) and have both chapters of Samorost 2 on you computer. I can't wait for #3.
Link to Samorost 1 and Samorost 2

Fun, Useful or Both: Spell With Flickr

I came across this nice little application by Erik Kastner yesterday (weird, not many Eriks with a 'k') and immediately used it to create a Christmas card I needed to make, printed right out on photo paper with a nice result. I'm a novice coder but I can tell it's a combination of php and javascript that enables you to type a word or even a phrase (supports spaces) and pulls random thumbnails from Flickr for each letter. If you don't like a particular letter after it prints them you can click on one and it will pull another. This could be developed in some directions I can think of, like creating a printable version so you don't have to copy your pictures over to another program.

And what could a kindergarten or 1st grade teacher do with this? Wouldn't kids love to see their own words depicted with environmental signage right on the screen? I say both fun and useful.