Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Off to SCOS conference

I'm off to Halifax for the SCOS (Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism), followed by a couple of weeks holiday so may not be able to blog for a bit, depending on whether conference has internet facilities available.

In the meantime, here is a photo of our seven-month-old, with whom we are travelling -- should make for an interesting conference!

Monday, June 28, 2004

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Followed the instructions on Blogger (This Old Blog) only to discover that updating the code that names each post meant erasing all the comments my blog had accumulated so far (since the comments were attached to the old names.) Well, duh! My apologies to everyone who commented, and hopefully it won't deter you from commenting again. (Hope the "Comments 0" line after each post won't give the impression that no one else is reading this... :-)

Generational Knowledge

When I started teaching at UofL only 5% of my students (or anyone else for that matter) had even heard of the Internet. One of the things I used to like to do to shake up my student teachers was to show them a picture of my 2-month old playing on the computer (literarlly before she could walk or even sit by herself) and suggest that if they wanted to keep up with the students they would be teaching, they had better start becoming computer literate now. Well, that 2-month-old is now a six-year-old entering Grade 1 with an easy familiarity with computers that many senior teachers have still yet to master, and computer literacy has become a defacto entrance requirement to the faculty. But I found a new item to get my student teachers' attention: a Discovery toy DNA sequencer.

I have to admit, this one even makes my brain hurt. But it shows you that the next generation of kids will come into our classrooms taking for granted knowledge and skills that barely existed when we were in school.... Consequently, it is not enough to equip teachers with the latest current skill set; they have to be able to anticipate and start preparing to teach the next generation of kids skills that don't even exist yet-- which means the teachers we graduate have to be lifelong learners and willing to retool every few years.

Comment by P. Freeman, High School Physics Teacher
(Comment was too long to fit in comment function.)
What strikes me as strange is that this DNA sequencer is being offered at
the same time that it has become effectively impossible to buy, say, a
chemistry or mechano set.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this works against there is an
implicit assumption in the demonstrations you refer to (whether
computer-baby or DNA sequencer) that the alteration in background is a
progressive or intensifying one. I'm not convinced that there is significant
alteration in DEGREE of learning (or in the kind of world) here... I think
that this (quite remarkable) toy is another point on a random walk in

What knowledge and approaches kids are presented with changes over time, but
is driven by trends in the perception of science and by fear of same -- not
by any progressive trend in society (or science itself), or any plan by
toy-makers. If something bad happens to create a negative emotional
association with DNA (and we can all think of several possibilitiesl) then
this toy will vanish, to be replaced by something else that will press the
"cool science" buttons of parents without triggering the "evil science"

Thus the tools for learning which a child is exposed to will randomly change
with time, but not in a predictable way. It does not, therefore, follow that
kids in the future will have "knowledge and skills that barely existed", but
rather that they may have a randomly different set of knowledge and skills
than we do (or the students we think we will teach have).

This does not void the requirement for flexibility (For instance I'm already
having to look for a replacement for the "pikachu functions" I've been using
to teach quantum the past few years -- as pokemon fall from grace). What a
'random walk' means is that we cannot say simply "you must be lifelong
learners" but rather "you must learn *what your students have learned*". It
means that you cannot "anticipate and start preparing to teach", it means
you have to 'participate and keep winging it!'

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Hitchhikers Return & Father's Day Revisited

New BBC Radio 4 production of Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is under production. Now all I have to do is convince my wife to watch the series. (She is understandably prejudiced against it on the grounds that so many fan boys tried to push it on her oh those many years ago when it first came out. But imagine never having seen, read or heard it! Why, nothing that is happening would make sense....)

And a different and compelling take on Father's Day by my current favorite blogger, cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken, author of "The Long Interview" (classic methodological text) and "Big Hair" (classic pop cultural anthropology.)

Monday, June 21, 2004

Father's Day Debriefed

I had a great father's day, the first with two daughters. I managed to avoid doing anything on the computer or chores, and spent the day doing family stuff.

Mary and I were struck, however, by the opposing interpretations of father's day among our colleagues. The majority of our friends appear to view father's day as "Father's day off" from the kids. For example, one of our closest friends celebrated father's day by taking the kids to the local equivalent of Chuckie Cheese to give Dad some quality alone time where he could do his own thing. Couples choosing this approach appeared to pair this with the presentation of expensive gifts; e.g., the same dad got a $1000 read and record DVD player.

In contrast, Mary and I view Father and Mother's day as a "spend time with the kids" day. Couples who adopt this approach tend to go for inexpensive "made by the kids" gifts. E.g., I got one of those Star Buck's travel mugs (I'm guessing under $12) but where the bottom screws off and you can insert your own pictures. Tigana drew me a beautiful picture with mermaids, stars and lots of hearts, and wrote "I love mi dad becuse he is mi dad and he helps me. He is the bast." She even "helped" 7 month old Kasia draw a vaguely heart shaped figure on the glass. Believe me, given the choice between that mug and a $1000 DVD recorder, I'm choosing the travel mug every time!

I am not saying that the "holiday from the kids" approach is wrong, just noting the difference in approaches. I certainly get why stay at home mom's might need to escape chores and kids once a year and get out to the Ball; but it is a little hard to see how that works for Dads (stay at home dad's the exception) since they mostly get to escape kids five days a week, but I confess it would be nice to get a day to myself somewhere where maybe I could just read all day or go to an SF convention or something. But I'm not sure that father's day is the day to do that. I'd rather celebrate father's day by being a father.

At 6 years old, Father's Day was a big deal to my daughter. Her kindergarten class designed a minature golf course in their class, drew pictures, painted paintings, organized a tea, and wrote poems ("What I would do if I were Dad for a day") for the day, and invited the dad's over for Friday afternoon golf. I went and had a blast playing golf and watching Tigana wolf down my share of the cookies and reading her poems and viewing her paintings. But the sociologist in me was also fascinated watching the other dads. Half of them seemed to be having as good a time as I was, goofing through the kid's golf range, but the other half seemed either lost ("Are any of the other dad's watching me? Did they notice I missed that putt?") or in a hurry ("Oh this is great honey. Okay, get your coat and let's...oh you want me to play golf with you? Gee, maybe next week, but let's get your coat..oh it's only today? Okay, I guess if I have to...there I hit the ball. Now let's grab your jacket and...") You know?

Mary, on the other hand, couldn't help observing that Mother's Day had consisted of a Mother's day tea and a single picture/writing project, while Father's Day preparations seemed much more elaborate: the mini-golf course was a massive project with six foot high teddy bear traps and lego greens; there were three different art projects and two writing projects, all designed to engage Dad's attention, perhpas in the hope that they would spend an hour with their kid at the school before whisking the kids off home. So is this sexist favourtism, or is it the teacher's experience that they need a more elaborate lure to get and keep the Dads' attention?

Well, other people can do as they see fit. For me, waking up to my wife and daughters coming in saying "Happy Father's Day" made it one of the best day's of my life!

Friday, June 18, 2004

Gender & the Web

Came across an interesting site on gender & the web this evening: Stanford Women in Computer Science" Includes a list of resources on gender and technology -- good resource for undergrad term papers here.

Other potentially interesting sites include this thesis on the chilly climate for women on the web and this new blog.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Blogs as APAs

The parallels between Amateur Press Associations (apas) and the emergent blogosphere have been much on my mind of late. The interactions are essentially the same, with the difference being that blogs usually have a daily turnaround, whereas the most frequent apas were monthly, and the norm was quarterly mailings. The greater posting frequency of blogs obviously changes the dynamic to at least a degree, since the blog provides greater immediacy but therefore requires a correspondingly greater commitment on the part of the reader who chooses to keep up; and of course, the blog carries less formal productivity requirements, though some of the indexes require that member blogs remain current or risk being delisted, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. But the blog provides a much closer parallel to apas then say the chatroom or list serve, because the blog provides a much higher degree of ownership, editorial control, and creative expression. Like the apazine, the blog belongs to the originator, and commentary on other blogs (including commentary on others’ commentary) is contained within one’s own editorializing rather than as part of a shared forum. Consequently, unlike the list serve where one has to put up with the intrusion of idiots and flame wars over which one has no control, in the blogosphere, one can simply ignore any discussion one considers a waste of time and any writer with whom one disagrees. The signal to noise ratio is therefore considerably higher than in chat rooms or list serves, since readers can follow link referrals from bloggers one admires to other similar –minded bloggers without ever encountering those who are less simpatico.

I had thought that chat rooms and list serves would spell the end of apas, and while participation in apas did decline rapidly during this period, the major apas survived. But the greater editorial control and creative expression available in the blog seems likely to displace the print apa. A few, like the original National Amateur Press Association (NAPA) and the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA) may continue to attract individuals who are interested in the print format per se, since (especially in NAPA) there were always a percentage who were primarily into printing (often using antique presses) as an art form; but for the majority, like myself, who simply used print as a medium through which reach an audience, the greater flexibility of the WWW (wider, cheaper distribution; free color; the potential for audio / visual / animation etc where required) pretty much displaces the earlier technology. But I see this as an evolution of the apa rather than its demise.

I was fairly active in the apa movement for much of the ‘80s and 90s, and learned a number of lessons which appear to carry over to blogs. One trend I am fairly confident in predicting is that blogs, like apas before them, are likely to drift off topic after an initial foundational period. Although many blogs serve a key networking function in allowing like-minded individuals to find and keep each other informed, once these individuals become comfortable within their circle of self-referential links, the original topic which brought them together is likely to become secondary to their personal interactions. The ease with which blogs can be initiated and maintained may mitigate this tendency to some extent, since many people keep both a topic specific blog and a separate personal blog, but as multiple entries in multiple blogs becomes onerous, the temptation to merge them into one commentary may increase over time. In any event, since these separate blogs often refer to each other, and since the topic blog is generally the primary source of recruitment of readers to the personal blog, they may be considered analytically part of the same output. And what I am observing is that the key words that classified and indexed particular blogs originally often do not accurately describe the content by the time I or others find them through the blog list & indexing services to which they subscribed.

This is, I must admit, also true of my own blog. I may have started this blog as part of my Social Context course, but even before the term was over, I was often a long way off the issues of popular culture and education, though simply by being who I am, those topics are more likely to crop up than some others. We’ll see what happens here once the fall term starts up again and I have another class

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Blog Listings

Been busy submitting my blog to various indexes and listings, and adding their links to my blog. I worry that this will detract somewhat from my blog’s image, as I know I tend to view others who list their blog in every available index as a bit too desperate for an audience. But I am building a blog assignment for my fall classes, and I want my students to list their blog on at least one index outside of class, so that they can get the feel of “going public”. Consequently, I need to provide a fairly extensive list of available options, easy links to those sites, and I need to be familiar with these services myself. So, I figure I have to do it myself first.

I have found reading through the listings very enlightening, and I think my first informal (i.e., non-graded) homework assignment will be for my students to browse a few listings. One of the things I would like my students to do is decide what makes an interesting, arresting blog description (most under 300 words) and what causes them to skip immediately to the next entry, before they attempt to write one themselves. I know that for myself, 85% of the descriptions are an immediate turn off. “The daily musings of a frustrated teen”, for example, or “The boring diary of a boring average guy” pretty much tells me that these people have nothing original to say. We take people at their own assessment, at least initially, so a blog description is not the place to be self-deprecating. The last class in which I used a blog assignment often billed their blogs as “a class assignment for ED 3603” which is not only too self-referential for those outside the campus context, but an obvious kiss of death to any public readership. I shall insist on something more engaging this term.

I know my own description is probably too pompous to attract many readers (and the title strikes many people as either arrogant or self-deprecating, depending on how its read) so I am probably in no position to criticize, but I have to be a bit careful what I say in a course context. And the title is from my former FAPA zine (of which more later) so I like the continuity even if it is perhaps a bit off putting in a blog context. But probably not the best role modeling.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

One Man Band

Caught interesting act at Calgary's Children Fesitval last weekend: Dan the one man band; website's worth a look. I'd book him as my company's Christmas entertainment, if I worked for a company.

Ella Enchantged

Took my six year old to Ella Enchanted this afternoon, and she rated it a 10/10. I give it 8.5. One part Cinderella, one part Lizzy McGuire, one part Mean Girls, one part Monty Python. Much more enjoyable than I would have predicted, this retelling of Cinderella is premised on Ella being blessed /cursed by her fairy god mother at birth with an enchantment that makes her obey any order she is given. So she ends up taking directions like "Bite me" literally. What makes the movie funny for adults is the Pythonesque bits which transpose modern institutions (malls, valley girls, etc) into fairy tale terms. Nice twists on the evil step sisters (Mean Girls) and the Cinderella fable (now its clear why she had to put up with all those stupid orders) and nice anti-racism undercurrent. All in all, a painless outing for parents and a good movie for kids.

I also lend my seal of approval to Shrek II, which similarly transposes modern elements (police pepper spray, union activities, organized crime, etc.) into a fairy tale setting. In this case my six year old only got about 1/4 of the jokes/references, but that was still enough to allow her to enjoy the movie; I suspect even most teenagers won't get everything since many of the in-jokes are references to scenes from movies they will never have seen.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Star Trek, Flames, & the Election

Here's a fascinating eBay link passed on from Randy Reichardt:

Star Trek Apartment

In other stupid fan phenomenon, I find the "Flames Fever" currently manifest in Alberta slightly embarrassing. I would understand all of the flag flying and hype were the Flames in anyway related to Calgary. I mean, if the guys on the team were my local butcher and the high school principal and the cable guy, then okay, I'd get out and cheer them on. I could even see putting the $14.95 flame flag on my car had any of the players been born and raised and learned to play in Calgary. I might even be able to get it if the players like, you know, lived in Calgary once the seasons was over. But as far as I can make it out, its just a bunch of mercenaries hired by some guy in Calgary to play against a bunch of other guys who aren't from and don't live in their city either, and I'm having trouble seeing a connection to me and mine. I mean, I love listening to a bunch of guys who make me look athletic running out of a bar where they have just consumed their own body weight in alcohol screaming "We won, we won!" Someone explain to me where the "We" comes from. You paid $14.95 for the flag ($30.00 for the pair) for your car, and suddenly you're a team member with an equal share of the glory of winning?

It's even more embarrassing living here in Lethbridge, which is not, last I checked, a Calgary suburb...every times the Flames win another game, the number of Flame banners and car flags in Lethbridge doubles. If the couch potatoes who think "they won" because they watched a game in a sports bar are pathetic, then what can you say about somebody who 'joins the team" two games short of the end of the series. The stampede to join the winning team defines 'loser' in my book.

Which brings us to election signs. It depresses me to think that more Canadians vote in Canadian Idol than in the national election, but it depresses me even more to see people voting who are too stupid to figure out where they stand on any of the issues, but simply try to find out which candiate is ahead so they can vote for, and so be part of, the winning side. I mean, what is the point of putting up election signs, if not simply to demonstrate how many supporters one has, in hopes of convincing others to vote on the winning side? Its not like the election posters actually say anything or have any information on them; just the candidate's name and party affiliation. I just need one of those per candidate to figure out whose running, and the rest serve no purpose, but the intensity of campaigning to get more signs out reveals that the numbers game is life and death, especially in a close race as the Lethbridge riding is rumoured to be. But who are these voters who wait to see who has the most signs, and then signs on with that party? Are these the people we want chosing our government?

The CBC ran a skit the other morning where a reporter pretends to do a man in the street interview, and asks, "Who are you going to vote for" and the woman answers, "I just wait until I see which side has the most signs, and then I vote for that side."
"Oh, who did you vote for last time, then?"