Server Issues

I have operated at least one server pretty much since this was possible. My motivation for this commitment has varied. Early on, having my own server allowed me to do quite a few things others could not do. This is still the case in isolated areas. My research involves database driven interactivity and storage requirements I cannot duplicate with services provided by the university. Even some of the instructional strategies I employ are very cumbersome when using something like the Blackboard CMS. For example, creating and modifying linked web pages is not practical in Blackboard. The system does not allow modifications to one part of an interconnected system of pages. Some familiar with a CMS may question my claim. Try changing one page of a 40-50 page web site saved on a CMS. Blackboard, at least, wants to treat the entire site as a unit.

The last few days I have been experiencing some of the limitations of having a great deal of personal control. The server offering instructional materials for one of my courses and the development site for online content associated with our book has crashed over night. Temporarily losing the development site is not catastrophic, but students do get frustrated when course content is not available even if they happen to discover this is the situation at 2 in the morning.

At one time, I had hoped that most educators would each operate a simple server and it seemed that things were going in that direction. The Mac had a simple way to share web pages. You did not have to FTP content to a remote server, you just moved files into a folder on your desktop machine. Some things have changed. The assignment of static IPs is now less popular. Security concerns also seem more prevalent. You can still use any Mac as a server, but I know no one who actually does this.

I now have another option. I can rent server space at a reasonable price. The resources I offer at Learning Aloud are provided on rented space. I can do PHP and MySQL scripting, but I do not have to setup or maintain the server. This combination offers advantages.

There is an expression that often applies – I know just enough to be dangerous. I have learned some things operating a server. I know a little linux and to consider some of the exploits that hackers might apply (sql injection). However, when you don’t maintain a server on a daily basis you end up applying your time very inefficiently. I never completely understand what I am doing and I must expend a great deal of time and energy in trial and error. As the equipment I use (typically cast off Macs) changes and runs on different operating systems, what worked last time does not work this time. Critical files are located in different places and executing a statement on the command line from my old notes may not work this time. So, I can spend 8-10 hours over a weekend to get something working a couple of times a year or I can pay $10 a month to not have to worry about it. It would be nice not to have to pay anything, but those hours of labor have to be worth something even to me. This is now the decision. How important is it to have physical contact and control over the entire process?

— I located this post through bloglines that outlines issues in using the Mac as a server

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The Images of Our Lives

Our kids bought me a scanner for my 60th birthday. This was some months ago and it took some time to get it ordered and delivered and for me to find some time to get it put together. It is a Canon CanoScan 8800F and it has an adapter for scanning slides. It does occur to me that talking about slides and slide projectors may not be particularly informative for many who read my posts, but this disconnect is kind of the point. I have these old pictures in a format I can no longer display and I wanted to do something to save them.

I started to look at some pictures (slides) we saved from my parents’ house shortly before it was torn down. Some of the slides are likely older than I am and even pictures in which I appear are really at the earliest reaches of my powers of recollection. It is impossible to know if I really remember or if I remember the descriptions provided by others.


Here is a picture I am guessing was taken approximately 55 years ago. I am on the right with the binoculars and my brother Dan is on the left. We are not twins, but my mother must have thought it interesting to dress us alike. Perhaps it was a way to keep us from fighting about who had the coolest stuff. The kid in the middle is Lowell Monke our neighbor from down the gravel road. At least I think this is the case. I must admit I even have difficulty differentiating the pictures of me from my brother after this length of time. Actually, maybe it is my brother Bill, but that would make this story less interesting. I wrote about Lowell in a blog post some years ago because we both went on to academic careers that had something to do with classroom technology. I wrote a book about the integration of technology and he wrote a book cautioning educators against instructional dependence on technology with younger children. I have not had the opportunity to talk with him in years and I have no idea how different our perspectives really are. What are the odds?

I am intrigued by the current interest in stories, storytelling, and the importance of collecting the stories of our lives. Images may be a neglected part of these stories. Maybe now is the time to consider how we will save the images we tucked away in our closets and basements.

Books Online (at least some)

I have written multiple posts concerning copyright and the publishing industry. I certainly don’t have the answers, but as both a producer and consumer I at least understand the frustrations experienced by the multiple parties involved.

The NYTimes Review of Books offers an interesting editorial on such topics prompted by Google’s efforts to digitize and offer as much published content as possible. I learned some new things – e.g., libraries must pay $25,910 to offer access to the Journal of Comparative Neurology. I was curious and tried to access this journal. UND does have it and I could access online. I took a look at the first title – Deletion of the citron kinase gene selectively affects the number and distribution of interneurons in barrelfield cortex (p spc1) –and decided that I would stick to reading the Journal of Educational Psychology. I wonder what the library budget for the College of Education is.

BTW – the editorial does not come down on the side of open source:

Libraries exist to promote a public good: “the encouragement of learning,” learning “Free To All.” Businesses exist in order to make money for their shareholders—and a good thing, too, for the public good depends on a profitable economy.

I offer this resource as another comment on this complex issue. The article describes the present agreement between copy-right holders and Google (students don’t count on legal online access to your textbooks) and also expresses some concern that the present agreement is limited to Google.

Twitter Stage Theory

I have been working on some material on group microblogging to add to my participatory web for learning site. I have been developing some content describing educational uses of Twitter and have been thinking about how people seem to react to Twitter. I am easily distracted and instead of finishing the material on Twitter, I decided to develop a developmental stage theory of Twitter users.

I discuss developmental stage theories in my work as a psychologist and while a little bit of a stretch perhaps some of the assumptions of stage theories apply to Twitter users. A major assumption proposes that not all individuals go through all stages and not at the same speed, but all individuals go through stages in the same order.

I do not know if the following diagram is self-explanatory or not, but it proposes three stages, it outlines the the realizations that allow some users to progress to the next stage, and the perspectives that encourages others to quit the Twitter community all together.

microblogstagesSo, I welcome you to test this model against your own experiences. If you have tried Twitter, which stage did you achieve?

BTW – the need a better tool links should probably be differentiated – I need a better tool vs. We need a better tool

P.S. – I noticed something interesting after I added this post to my blog. When you examine any single post on this blog, a plugin I have added to WordPress identifies what “it” thinks are similar posts I have generated on the same topic. In the case of this post, it generates earlier posts on Twitter. You can kind of see my own attitude change as I collect experiences with Twitter. Cool.

Leapfish – Another attempt to improve search

A post by David Warlich encouraged my exploration of Leapfish – another attempt to improve the search experience. As I understand the intent of Leapfish from the “About us” page and the Warlich post, it appears that Leapfish is an attempt to do a better job of integrating the multiple dimensions (webs, blogs, video, images, news) from which we potentially might acquire information.

I like to evaluate such services using my “question of the day”. Today’s question happens to be “If the inauguration set such an optimistic tone, why did the stock market take such a drastic downturn?” I really want to know.

I tried – inauguration AND stock market – I could find no guidelines regarding boolean search techniques, but this phrase seemed to work.


The Google search seemed to reveal that others had similar questions (the second hit linked to CNBC).

The top link from the News panel offered a comment from MarketWatch . There was some reassuring data from this source –

Consider that, of the 27 inaugurations that have occurred since the Dow was created in 1896, this index has declined on 19 of those days, or 70% of the time.

This was at least reassuring.

BTW – the MarketWatch link did appear a little further down on the list of sources provided by Google so perhaps this cannot be regarded as an additional find.

One of the top listed blogs (an offering from Tim Paradis of the Associated Press so also kind of a news source) seemed to at least offer an explanation noting recent news regarding further struggles in the banking industry.

One of the most interesting resources was a YouTube video which if I understand the language seems to predict a bounce. WRONG, but interesting. It is reassuring to note that my naive assumptions were expressed in more complex language by folks who get paid for this sort of analysis and we were both wrong.

So LeapFish did expand my personal experience. I tend not to look for explanations on YouTube and probably trust Google too much.

The message – perhaps we all fall into a rut. A tool like Leapfish makes options more visible and perhaps encourages a little more explanation.

Student 2.0 Interest

Various bloggers and educational writers frequently float the idea that our students regard us as out of touch because we do not take advantage of participatory web tools in our classrooms and do not use such tools ourselves. While personally quite interested in participatory web applications in education, I have expressed skepticism regarding just how involved students actually are with such tools (perhaps ignoring Facebook which may or may not meet my personal definition of “participation”). Ironically, Will Richardson seems to have come to a similar conclusion. I say ironically in that pro-blogging and personal learning network (PLN) advocate Richardson has a way of suggesting that conventional education is unacceptable. His recent post represents a more balanced perspective.

I say these things as an introduction to what was for me a very unique experience. After my educational psychology class (undergraduate) on Friday a student approached me to say that he had been reading my blog and found what I had to say quite interesting. He went on to say that I was the only faculty member he knew who used tools like blogs and wikis and he was glad to meet someone who was doing this kind of thing.

I am not certain how I react to criticism, but I know that I am even more awkward in reaction to praise. I did thank him and suggested that there were probably other faculty members who were involved in this type of thing. I suggested that I teach these tools in one of my graduate education courses and I felt it important to be a practitioner of the activities you advocate.

I thought more about this interaction afterwards. I know other faculty members involve their students in blogs and wikis. I know that other faculty members have Facebook pages. I am not certain I know other faculty members at my university who are active bloggers or who create wiki content outside of their own courses. This could mean several  things. It could mean we operate in our own little worlds and are unaware of each other. It could mean there are simply few of us who do such things.

Despite my cautious remarks regarding the level at which 12-25 year olds have embraced participation, I do think such activities should be more common among academics. Richardson is right – not everyone is a reader/writer. However, academics are. Grants and publications are expected responsibilities. We get paid for discovery AND communication. We are familiar with the proposal that it does not count until it is published – our responsibility is to communicate.

Perhaps the sad reality is that we get no credit for communication outside of the classroom that does not result in a product that ends up in some research library. I am careful to so say “some” because most libraries are unable to secure many of the journals that now exist. I support scholarly publication as a priority, but there is a point at which there is a diminishing return on this activity. Three pubs a year, 4 pubs, is there a meaningful difference. Perhaps some of the commitment here should be devoted to a public discussion of what we do. Perhaps if more “scholars” made the effort, the tax money expended on public institutions would be regarded as more acceptable by the general public. What about communication for public consumption as a responsibility of the scholar?

The student who responded to my earlier posts did get me thinking about why I do this. I originally proposed that I wrote for my own amusement and my own education (hence the title of this blog). It is more isn’t it? I do want others to understand what I do on a level that is personal and understandable. It turns out it does not take much feedback to keep me going. So, if the student I described reads this post – thanks for your comments!

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Google Trims a Few Services

Google has announced that it is closing down or stopping development of several services. This announcement indicate the intent was to concentrate on fewer services. I am assuming this narrower focus is related to the down turn in the economy.

The one tool on the list that I have used was Google Notebook. I became interested in Google Notebook after listening to a conference presentation a year or so ago. The presentation concerned the potential educational benefits of Google applications. Basically, Google Notebooks offers a cloud application that can be used by individuals or collaborators to store content. The Google Blog encouraged Notebook users to explore the functionality of related applications. I am a heavy user of Google Docs and I must admit I was never certain how Google docs was different from Google Notebook. A “word processing” file in docs seems very similar and perhaps there was not enough unique customer interest in Notebook to continue.