A few weeks ago, I applied to Grand Circus as a Javascript instructor. They asked me to fill out a questionnaire about my teaching style. Answering the questions was very thought-provoking, so I'll share my answers with you. Let me know what you think.
You're teaching an 8 week adult bootcamp, from 9am-5pm daily. *
One of your students is very, very overwhelmed. It's week 2 and he doesn't feel that he is understanding the materials or that he will ever catch up to his classmates' progress. What do you do?
One factor in a bootcamp structure is the level of energy-- therefore, the approach of staying afterward for more learning is of limited use after an exhausting day. Very little information is retained when tired. Instead, I would pair students of different achievement levels, to solidify their learning through teaching it to someone else.

I would walk this student through the process of narrowing down each problem he is encountering, until he finds the question behind that problem-- more specific than just "Why doesn't this work?"

I would not be one of those teachers who says "You are all really quiet. I'm not sure whether to back up and explain it again. Someone nod if you understand." Instead, when I am uncertain that a student is following me, I would say "How would you rephrase what I just said in your own words-- if it made sense?"

During the second week it's a bit late in the process to emphasize keeping a TXT file with notes, but it still can't hurt.

I would encourage him to not measure himself against others, but against his past self. No one was born knowing how to do this. There is no one global standard of minimum adequacy. At each level of his development in the future, he will find places where that level fits.

If I get the sense that he has been inculcated with the tech culture's odd standards, I might remind him that software development is a job for normal people. He is going to be competent, and that's all that matters. You know the tech culture I mean. Constant use of terms like "rockstar" or "ninja" imply that you're either a super-genius, or worthless. It's not reality. Apply for jobs anyway, and do them proudly, with an understanding that 99% of devs provide plenty of value to their employers without being superhuman miracle workers.
You're teaching an 8 week adult bootcamp, from 9am-5pm daily. *
There are only 3 women in a twenty person class. Does this affect how you prepare group projects? If so, how?
I would ask other instructors I know, to find out how they have approached this. If I directly ask the students for feedback on how they would like me to approach it, this might discourage them, as studies have shown students perform more poorly when it is pointed out that they are in a disadvantaged group, in an effect called "priming".

It might be better to assign all three women to work in the same group to avoid one woman being in a group with two men, and being talked-over or dismissed. On the other hand, I don't want them to feel segregated. I would need to do more reading and ask for more advice from women who are software developers.
You're teaching a 10 week public course, offered 2 nights a week from 6pm - 8pm. *
One of your students is not showing up regularly but he is still handing in work on time and his work shows relatively thorough understanding of the concepts you're teaching in class. Do you do anything about his lack of presence in class?
I would ask him why he is absent. Is it due to life circumstances, or because he feels it is unnecessary? I would tell him that collaboration with others is one of the most important skills in software development, and that he can greatly improve on where he already is if he helps students who know less about it than he does.

If his absences continue, I would work within the school's certification policies regarding those who did not take the course they signed up for-- for example, is it a graded class in which I can reduce his grade based on number of missed classes? Or is it a "pass or fail" certification?
You're teaching an introductory programming class. *
One of your students clearly has had programming experience in the past. She finishes independent projects quickly and frequently helps classmates understand concepts. However, she occasionally asks questions during class that introduce higher-level concepts than you plan to teach and that the rest of the students do not understand. This often leads to confusion and derails your instruction. How do you handle this situation?
I would thank her for the question and explain that we don't have time to cover that. After class, I would ask her when this happens to jot a note to herself, reminding her to ask me one-on-one or email me. I would then respond either with explanations, or with blog posts which lead to more self-directed learning materials.
You're teaching at a high school for one of our youth programs. The course you are teaching is part of the students' daily schedule. *
One of your students seems distracted and regularly goes on random websites while you are teaching. Her grades are low, which seems to match her understanding of the material. She refuses help from the TA and occasionally falls asleep in class. What do you do?
That's me in high school, in any class I was not interested in. I have been thinking about this ever since. When a student doesn't get a choice about whether to learn, they often don't want to. Without the student's consent, teaching is effectively wasted, especially when they see it as capitulating a power-struggle over their own right to their own lives. Establishing the student's consent seems like step one.

I would make the material as engaging and approachable as possible. I would ask what she does want to do with her time, and springboard from that to see if any of her activities can be improved by creating a website about it.

I would gently ask questions which might indicate whether she has an adequate support network, because of sleeping in class, and I'd see if maybe she needs to go somewhere quiet during my class and get an opportunity to sleep. Maybe give her some food that increases blood sugar.

If none of that works, well, I'm going to be completely up-front and honest with you about my position on high school. The bodily autonomy of being in my classroom is a consent issue. That matters to me more than her parents paying me. I want to be a resource, not a jailer.
I almost certainly have a job, as an office clerk and phone liaison. I'll know by the end of the week. I'll have money for fuel, so you'll see more of me. After I've worked there a few months, my hours will go up from 40 to 54 hours a week. Then you'll see somewhat less of me.

(It's in Warren, so I'll have to move. Again. For the time being, I'm living out of a suitcase in Warren and only going home to Whitmore Lake on weekends. Whitmore Lake is an hour away, so that doesn't work. I have been browsing Ferndale/Royal Oak room-for-rent listings on Craigslist. I feel encouraged by the price ranges.)

This job is managing a huge number of outside contractors; i.e., people who have a tenuous relationship to us and do not necessarily have to do what we tell them to do. All we can do is replace them. Sound familiar? So, during the job interview, I described my experience with Penguicon. Keeping in touch with remote strangers who are never seen. Tracking when work is due, what is late, and when to replace someone. Motivating rather than nagging. Documenting processes. They were impressed, and said this is similar work.

You might be wondering now, "why did you spend a few years and a few thousand dollars to get a web development certificate with a 4.0 GPA?" That is only the first step of a journey. It was a good start, but job interviewers have made it clear to me that I'm still not qualified. I need to do a lot more personal learning, including:

1) Server administration from my laptop, so that I can install whichever additional technologies I want to learn.
2) Javascript libraries such as JQuery and YUI.
3) Python frameworks such as Django, and Ruby frameworks such as Ruby On Rails.
4) More about databases.
5) SASS. I would love to learn SASS.
6) How to inflict bloated, swiss-army-knife Content Management Systems. Hissssss. Actually, never mind this one.

A qualified portfolio should include a large number of web applications with polished interfaces and finished-looking designs. I would like at least one to have rich, responsive interaction, such as a game. I would like at least one to be a multi-user database-driven site. The thing is, each such project would take months of spare time. Frankly, I'm not the type who can become a hermit and emerge from my cave with a finished project in a short timespan. I like other humans too much. Other humans are the whole point of a project. Will I some day get a job as a creative or technical professional? In this economy, who knows. Perhaps in a few years. Or perhaps not-- perhaps it's only for hermits. Either way, I'm determined to learn. While I learn, I have to pay the bills, and it looks like my current job prospect is a perfectly pleasant and agreeable way to do that. I'm satisfied.
Over the years, I came to realize that my best work has always involved subjects that interested me, or -- even better -- subjects about which I've become interested, and even passionate about, through the very process of doing design work. I believe I'm still passionate about graphic design. But the great thing about graphic design is that it is almost always about something else. Corporate law. Professional football. Art. Politics. Robert Wilson. And if I can't get excited about whatever that something else is, I really have trouble doing a good work as a designer. To me, the conclusion is inexcapable: the more things you're interested in, the better your work will be
--Michael Beirut, "Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content" from Seventy-Nine Short Essays On Design.
There is just an astonishing quantity of paying work out there for projects that try to get people to buy things, and there is almost nothing I want to buy. I don't want to kindle a desire to buy more things. I don't want kindle that desire in others.

I have focused my design efforts on non-marketing pieces: magazines, maps, information guides, books, games, illustrations. I enjoy doing that-- particularly for topics that interest me. I am known for boundless, passionate enthusiasm. I don't know how to generate enthusiasm. Certainly not in exchange for money. I'm not sure I could live with myself if I did.

On the other hand, I think a lot of programming consists of making a product. That product is what you are selling. It is your business-- not a dozen different businesses a year. Someone uses that product. Corporate software, unfortunately, is chosen and paid for by someone who doesn't have to use it, and that's why it sucks. I hope very much to work on something that is chosen and paid for by the person who uses it. I want to make something the user wants.
Steve Blank talks about startup culture in Ann Arbor.

Steve Blank is an experienced expert on entrepreneurship, whose excellent blog I have been reading for a long while. He summarizes each post with a set of points under "Lessons Learned". He concludes his Ann Arbor article the same way:
  1. U of M has a College of Engineering dean who “gets it”
  2. He’s turned the school into an outward facing school, fostering an entrepreneurial and innovation culture
  3. The Center for Entrepreneurship is on board with passionate faculty, innovative curriculum and excited students
  4. The area has almost no experienced angel, super-angel or venture capital (as we know it in Silicon Valley) for Web/mobile apps, hardware and software
  5. The lack of experienced risk capital means a lack of experienced mentors, coaches, and infrastructure.
One of the major premises of his blog is that a startup is not a company. A company is what follows a startup. It executes a known business model. But a startup is an organization whose purpose is to search for a business model. This means it keeps changing until it gets consistently stable profit growth, then disbands, hands the reigns over to managers, and becomes a company. Until then, the startup keeps abandoning their business hypothesis and forming a new, altered one. Scientifically, you are expected to start off with a hypothesis that is wrong.

Silicon Valley calls this a pivot. Elsewhere it is called a failure, and you are embarrassed to have been wrong.

One difference in cultures is respect for failure. In Silicon Valley, you're proud to have made many attempts. It's "What did you learn from your first three startups?" In Michigan, it's "Why don't you get a job?"
It has become difficult for our contemporaries to imagine a fantasy world inside a mundane, utilitarian chunk of plastic, without openable screws, with apps you are not allowed to modify. To them, TRON: Legacy might feel like the adventures of dust particles in a Bissell Cleanview Helix® Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner, $79.99 at Target after rebate. The juxtaposition of the familiar and the otherworldly makes some reviewers uncomfortable.

Wardrobes are a well-understood technology. We know their molecular proportion of wood-vs-Narnia with scientific precision. But a wardrobe can be very, very old, and made from very, very old trees-- old enough to have been around when the world, perhaps, worked by different rules. Your daughter would not find Narnia in her plywood-and-brushed-steel Hanna Montana wardrobe.

TRON: Legacy might easily leave you cold, if you never watched the original... during the eighties. Watching the original now for the first time might only put you off more. I watched it for the first time years ago, but was saved from my overwhelming disgust by having played the game in the eighties. That movie serves to tarnish its own legacy as if it were its own Star Wars Prequels.

Those who are nostalgic for the original can remember what it felt like at the time. It felt like the first one minute and twenty-three seconds of this streaming soundtrack. Of course, even then I never thought TRON was remotely plausible-- rather, the art design and music expressed how the idea of information systems felt.

The strength of TRON was a holy trinity of Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Alien), the French comic book artist Moebius (warning: possibly NSFW), and Wendy Carlos, the legendary synth composer. It should have been an art film resembling Walt Disney's Fantasia, but instead, it attempted to add a script and acting, both of which were terrible.

(The art film approach would have also benefited Osmosis Jones-- Wait. What... What am I doing? Let us never speak of that film again.)

Because a sequel has to carry on all the premises of the original, whether they worked or not, I would have preferred a remake, preferably helmed by Tarsem Singh. He directed The Cell (excerpt) and The Fall (trailer), both of which reminded me of Destino (short film) a Disney animation inspired by Salvador Dali.

The bottom line is that I greatly enjoyed TRON: Legacy. It put the problems it inherited into the background, and did well with its advantages. I rarely go to first-run movie theaters, so I saved specifically to see this alone from the current season. I was not disappointed. I plan to watch it again, and would recommend it to anyone prepared to accept it on its intended terms.
Both a conversation and a document, Google Wave is truly amazing! It won't replace email, instant messenger, and online collaborative document editing tools, but when you need all three at once, it can't be beat.

For instance, Catherine Devlin and I have been collaborating on the InForm source code for "Penguicon The Text Adventure" and I think Google Wave is an ideal space for it. So I would like to move our collaboration there.

The first Wave I have received was a group of roleplayers brainstorming how to run a roleplaying game as a Wave.

I'll also use it for game design documents, because it can import images and videos, and has wiki-like revision control.

It's perfect for collaborating on refining the Lojban language standard and automatically having a record of why each document got to where it ended up.

It's ideal for convention sign-up sheets, once enough of the population have their own Wave accounts. And proofreading a convention schedule in a Wave? Absolutely!

I'm sure to find far more uses for it.

Let me know if you would like an invite. However, I only have a few.
I daydreamed about this system for years, and now I get to watch it.

World Builder from BranitVFX on Vimeo.

Gather round and listen to a story of me, self-surveillance, entrepreneurship, and a miniconference about the Python programming language.

I have always charged a flat rate for art and design.* This time, I wanted to time myself to find out what I earned per hour and adjust my future rates to what I need to bring in, based on accurate estimates of different types of assignments.
Read more... )
EPCOT Center had a robot arm that painted portraits, in the late eighties/early nineties. I bought a robot-painted portrait of me, but left it on the double-decker bus in World Showcase.

Now I want to make something like this poster-making robot made out of printer parts and an old Roomba.

What Penguicon needs is an annual Hack Of Honor-- a live-and-in-person D.I.Y. Imagineering exhibit that makes conventions fun. We're not going to get Makers to pack up and bring their stuff without helping them.

P.S. I won "Funniest Costume" at Blasted Bill's annual Halloween Bash last night for "Misinformed Time Traveler".
Anime-style mjr (original art by Noux)
Marcus Ranum is a security expert in Pennsylvania. (I found out about him in an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about Penguicon's Tech Guest of Honor, Bruce Schneier.)

In an essay on his site about "The Farewell Dossier", Marcus Ranum says:
Am I becoming a convert to the notion of Information Warfare? I don't think so. You don't need to worry about InfoWar if you're potentially facing a good old-fashioned ass-whupping. When I was a kid I remember I read a science fiction story about a race that was very technologically advanced but were extreme pacifists. They sold weapons to anyone who wanted them - cheap, good, and mighty powerful weapons. Nobody ever attacked them because they assumed that the species actually was holding back all the really good stuff for their own use. Until one day, someone discovered that, in fact, they had been selling all these weapons as a way of population-controlling the other species in the galaxy. So - the other races attacked in force. And every weapon they had promptly blew up.
It should be an established maxim that you can't go two steps from real-life 21st-century technology questions without encountering a science fiction story.
I'll post a thorough report of my weekend tonight. In the meantime here's a quick post.

Has no one else noticed that the breakthroughs which led to the motion-sensing technologies in the Nintendo Wii can be applied to robotics? Robots have almost never had the slightest clue where their bodies were positioned in space, except through dead reckoning from their memory of commands they sent to their moving parts, from a presupposed starting position. If an exterior object moved them by bumping them, they usually could not tell at all-- or at most, barely. My Robosapien has no idea when he's not standing upright.

Now that ultra-sensitive mechanical accelerometers have been wildly miniaturized, and more importantly the infrastructure is in place to mass-produce them at radical cost reduction for the new generation of game controllers, some hardware hacker is probably already planning to repurpose them for the vestibular (inner ear) and proprioception (body pose) senses of robots.


Sep. 7th, 2006 09:48 am

combines dynamic playing fields & levels found in computer gaming with the social interaction & tangible playing pieces of board games. It is a 32-inch horizontal LCD touch screen with multi-object position detection. It's currently just a concept product, not for sale or production. I have been waiting for this since... I can't remember a time when I wasn't waiting for this.


Sep. 1st, 2006 01:05 pm
I've been waiting for this a long time. AllPeers is a method of file transfer that lets you set up your own private network of peers with whom you can send and receive files of unlimited size. There's no more need to email a bulky file and wonder whether it's going to get through. Add friends and family members who also use AllPeers in the Firefox web browser, and decide what files you want them to be able to get from you. Click here if you have Firefox, to go to the download page for this extension.

Supposedly they're going to eventually open the source code. Also, supposedly this method is much faster than sending files through email or an instant message client, because it incorporates BitTorrent technology.

Just one neat example of a little trick you can do with this, is instantly share a screen shot with a peer who's online... such as a tech support scenario.

My username is MattArnold. Add me to your networks!
Goatchurch on the MundaneSF blog posted about his skepticism of molecular nanotechnology. He asked why we think a self-propelled miniature machine can exist, when we still don't have a robot that can vacuum the living room. (Given the existence of Roomba, that's another claim which, in itself, I would highly debate.) Here is the response I put there.

The failure of modern robotics is a software problem. But whether or not that is solvable is not relevant to nanotechnology, which rarely considers molecular robots. There is vast potential in nanotech products and materials that are not only dumb, but downright inert and permanently motionless. The potential of nanosystems which, while not motionless, are nevertheless dumb and sessile, is even more vast.

Look at this computer animation concept. Note that nothing in the assembly line depicted here involves individual nanorobots with independent self-propulsion, self-guidance or decision-making. Independence and intelligence are not required of molecular machinery. Don't confuse the "Universal Assembler/Disassembler" myth with the nanosystems that are actually being proposed.

Read more... )
MIT's Technology Review has a video documentary series titled "The Impact of Emerging Technologies" which is exclusively online. It's really interesting! It covers stem cells; robotic prosthetics with a mind/machine interface; artificial polymer muscle; computer interpretation of body language; nano-scale valves; and more.

The video about using lab yeast instead of lab mice for a 50,000-fold decrease in cost and slowness of new drugs showed them using robot laboratory systems. It reminded me of an article on Edge.org by Kevin Kelly, editor of WIRED Magazine, about using robots, Google, Wikis, "Zillionics" and more, to practice science in the future.

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I hadn't previously heard of a few of the speakers at Stanford's Singularity Summit, but I know every single one of the following eight names, and it's the most exciting lineup of Guests of Honor ever. It's interesting to finally find out from their photos what some of them look like.

- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, author of "The Singularity Is Near"
- Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist, author of "Gödel, Escher, Bach"
- K. Eric Drexler, nanotechnology pioneer, author of "Engines of Creation"
- Nick Bostrom, director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
- Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, technology activist
- Eliezer Yudkowski, Director and Research Fellow, Singularity Institute
- Christine Peterson, VP Public Policy, Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Tyler Emerson, Executive Director, Singularity Institute

The "What others have said" section shows Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio and Jaron Lanier. I wonder if they'll be at the summit? That section also lists Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Stephen Hawking.

But it's not a science fiction convention, it's an academic conference. These aren't really Guests of Honor, because that implies the presence of their fans at the event. This is by RSVP only. That's fine-- it's important that specialist professionals gather to do valuable work on the problems and promises of the Singularity in peace. That having been said, it would also be fantastic to get any of these to speak at Penguicon, especially since it's a Linux and Open Source software expo in addition to a science fiction convention. Many of them would probably demand an appearance fee, which all-volunteer not-for-profit SF conventions don't pay. And many of them probably would not want to be seen to be associated with a science fiction event (except for Cory Doctorow, who has already been our Guest of Honor). But Christine Peterson says in her Singularity Summit promotional blurb "If you're trying to project the long-term future, and what you get sounds like science fiction, you might be wrong. But if it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

I enjoyed reading the comment by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, which is extremely signifigant to me as a non-specialist:

Read more... )


Mar. 9th, 2006 01:09 pm
I've dreamed of an input device like the TactaPad for years. It resembles a little overhead projector. The camera on the stem is watching your hands and portraying a grey transparent sillhouette of them on the screen so that you don't have to look at your hands. It's a touch-sensitive tablet that can detect the touch of all of your fingers simultaneously, not just one point, and can detect differences in pressure and velocity. The surface gives you force feedback sensations.

Watching the demo movie of TactaDraw makes it clear why someone like me who has used art software for years would drool over this. I also would love to play a real time strategy game with this input method.

Of course, just as with its countless wonderful predecessors in the field of alternative input devices, there is no reason to expect this to be developed into a product that makes it to market, much less a product that succeeds in the market. Each application would have to be rewritten to accept the unique aspects of its input, and that doesn't tend to happen.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Ray Kurzweil is a guest blogger on Non-Prophet, to promote the ideas in his latest book, "The Singularity Is Near."
Read more... )

Second Life

Jan. 9th, 2006 11:40 pm
Sweet lard and heavenly butter. You are not going to believe this. I can hardly believe it myself. As you can see from the image behind the lj-cut, I am actually drinking tea at a tea party in a Neo-Victorian finishing school, and I am actually enjoying it.

It doesn't hurt that my tea-drinking compatriots are Steampunks, it's a scene out of Neil Stephenson's science fiction novel The Diamond Age, and this is a well-attended discussion group about the cutting edge of desktop minifacturing appliances. Aha, well that is impossible to resist.Read more... )
The researchers who constructed a robot with "mirror image cognition" are evidently looking at their project from the point of view of asking whether the robot is doing what it is we do. Or at least, what very simple animals do, such as insects. "Consciousness." "Self-awareness." I think the attempt to make that comparison only leads to dissapointment, because there is a tendency to define intelligence as whatever it is artificial intelligence researchers haven't accomplished yet. Instead, look at it as doing something new and useful that robots haven't done before. According to Discovery Channel News:

"A new robot can recognize the difference between a mirror image of itself and another robot that looks just like it.
Humans learn behavior during cognition and conversely learn to think while behaving, said Takeno.

To mimic this dynamic, a robot needs a common area in its neural network that is able to process information on both cognition and behavior.
Imitation, said Takeno, is an act that requires both seeing a behavior in another and instantly transferring it to oneself and is the best evidence of consciousness."

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