Wednesday, January 15, 2003


Okay, having assigned a course-related blog as one possible assignment
option in Education 3603, The Social Context of Schooling (Faculty of
Education, University of Lethbridge), I thought it would probably be a
good idea if I started one myself. I'm using Blogger as that seemed the
simplest and therefore most popular option for my students, but I may
switch to one of the other, more sophisticated packages once the course
is over, should I decide to keep doing this.

For those reading this who are not in Ed 3603, background information on
the course can be found at

Background information on me, Dr. Robert Runte, can be found at

I became interested in trying out a weblog as a course assignment after
talking with academic librarian (University of Alberta) Randy Reichardt,
and reading his blog at
Before that, however, I have long been interested in monitoring developments in
cyberculture (I have taught a graduate course on a sociological analysis
of cyberculture: and in
analyzing why people write (see my article from Broken Pencil Magazine
on the motivation for writing at
Web logs obviously combine both interests, as I am interested in why people would
be motivated to maintain an on-line dirary. It was only through
conversations with Randy Reichardt that I realized that many others were
already using blogs to network with others in their fields of interest,
that blogs are fast becoming a key ingredient in the creation of online
communities. The potential to create an online community of learners in
association with a particular course became obvious to me, and I allowed
students to volunteer to take their course discussions on-line. I
choose to do this in Ed 3603 because the Social Context of learning
course is a discussion course and because several of my colleagues are
already using paper and pencil journal assignments in their sections, so
it seemed the obvious candidate.

So, first, to any of my students reading this, a suggestion: why not
write your entry in Word (or other word processing program) first, and
then cut and paste into your blog? That way, one (a) has a permanent
record of their assignment safely on disk in case something goes wrong
with their blog and (b) has a chance to spell check before uploading the
entry, and (c) can get a clearer picture of how many pages/words one is
contributing. Just a thought.

Having, said all that by way of necessary introduction, allow me to
throw out some bits I have found interesting this week:

As a analyst of popular culture, I have been following developments with
Lord of the Rings, and I found the discussion of a "synthespians"--
computer-generated actors -- in Ed Willett's weekly science column of more than passing

"The film's massive Battle of Helm's Deep, featuring
tens of thousands of combatants, is fought almost entirely by
synthespians. The synthespians ...completely computer-created, the
amazing output of a new computer program called Massive developed specifically for The Lord of the Rings movies."

"Massive's synthespians aren't simply particles; they're intelligent
"agents." Each agent has specific body and behavioral attributes:
i.e., short, fat, and aggressive, or tall, skinny, and cowardly. Each
has a host--up to 350--of short potential actions; i.e., raise sword,
swing sword, step forward, step back. Each agent's actions are governed
by its individual "brain," a web of behavioral logic nodes that tells it
how to perceive, interpret and respond to what's happening, all governed
by "fuzzy logic" rather than simple "yes-no" decision making, which
allows for a much more varied range of actions.

"This means that although the outcome of a filmed battle can be
pre-determined, the specific actions of the agents that make up the
battling armies are unpredictable. This can lead to effects that
surprise even the creators: in an early test, most of the agents in two
computerized armies fought each other ferociously--but in the
background, several members of each army could be seen running away,
their "brains" having decided that was the logical thing to do!"

Okay, that's food for thought!

And on an unrelated note, my favorite one-liner found in an email this
week was by a lawyer and SF writer (I will leave him unnamed to protect
myself from lawsuits) who mentioned in passing: "It's not like the old
days where, because I never drank, I was always the designated driver
when we were stealing cars." I always find it interesting how a single
sentence can tell a story, tell more about a person's background then
some entire biographies, and reveal a great deal about popular culture
-- I love the juxtaposition of responsible drinking and car theft.

Oh, incidentally, in case anyone was wondering, the title of my Blog is
the title of a print-based publication I used to do, some articles from
which are reprinted at