Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Nutty with Ning

How many social networks is too many? I'm pretty sure that I'm on my way to finding out the answer to this question. My first exposure to was over a year ago when I signed up for the EdubloggerWorld network and shortly after that I signed up for the Stop Cyberbullying network. I'm not very active in either one of those networks, and until recently I really didn't pay that much attention to the Ning platform that was driving either of those networks.

About a month ago I decided to start my own Ning network just to see if it might work as kind of an aggregator for all my different blogs and such. I'm thinking that it probably won't do what I want it to, especially since the free version won't support some of the functionality that I'm looking for. Here is that first effort, which will likely abandoned since I don't think it will do what I want it to. It is public, although it is not really ready for public consumption: Desire2Blog Ning Network

Within a couple of days of creating my first Ning network, I received an invite from Ken G. to join Moose Works which is a newly created community of Minnesota e-learning professionals. This is currently a private network. Just so you know the difference, this is what you see when you try to view a private network. Moose Works Ning Network. (There is a chance that this network might be made public before you click that link.)

I subscribe to Jane Hart's blog titled "Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day" where I learned about a Ning network that she created called 25 Tools. As a contributor to her Top Learning Tools lists I decided that I should join her network. This is currently the largest network that I am actively engaged in. 25 Tools Ning Network.

Visit 25Tools

This weekend I created a private network for administrators to interact in. This one is too new to know whether it will be an effective platform or not. I'm also thinking about replacing our online faculty lounge within Desire2Learn with a Ning network - at least for a while on an experimental basis. I'm also thinking that a Ning network might be a good platform for our online students to interact within, although maybe Facebook is a better choice for that crowd.

I'm still trying to figure out how much I like Ning and how effective it is for this type of social networking. I think it is safe to say that I'm somewhat intrigued with the possibilities since I am currently involved with 6 Ning networks with more on the way. Kinda nutty, I know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Zoho Rocks

Wow, Zoho scores again. Today they are releasing another update to their spreadsheet product called Zoho Sheet. This is no ordinary update, IMO. They are adding functionality for both Macros and Pivot Tables with this upgrade. They continue to leave Google Docs and Spreadsheets in their dust with added functionality. Google gets more eyeballs, but Zoho is just better! This is a 5 minute video released by Zoho demonstrating some of these new features.

The amazing part is that they have figured out how to execute Visual Basic without using a Microsoft back-end, which should lead to some other pretty interesting possibilities for future functionality. It is great to be able to see those services develop right before your eyes.

A few other new features that make Sheet more Excel-like include:

  • a) You can double click on the column and row separators to set the optimal width and height. (I use this all the time in Excel)
  • b) Many new keyboard shortcuts are available.
  • c) There is now a Set as Text icon on the toolbar for when you want a number to not be a number (such as to display leading zeroes, etc.)
  • d) you can now add names to ranges or cells.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Agree - You Are What You Read

Jay made a post with an intriguing title: You are what you read. I agree completely. I have been reading more books over the past two years than in any other two year period in my life, maybe even when I was a student (I know, we're all still students). As other learning professionals talk about the books they are reading I find it too enticing not to get them and read them myself.

Jay mentions the Cluetrain Manifesto. I have referred to this book in many of my presentations because I still think that it should be required reading for anyone working in education. Even though it is now nine years old, the message still applies today as well as it did in 1999. Actually, it was probably a bit ahead of its time in '99, but definitely still very timely. I have re-read it twice in the past couple of years. Its a quick read and I'm trying to make their principles ingrained into my everyday thinking. In the true spirit of the net, you can read the entire book online for free. Still, they've sold millions of hard copies as well (there's a message there people!).

I just purchased three books. I have only read ten pages so far of Sir Ken Robinson's new book titled "Out of Our Minds, Learning to Be Creative." I have watched his fabulous Ted Talk about five times and find him to be very inspiring (in fact I'm listening to it right now as I write this). I've tried to encourage creativity in my elementary school technology club by having them make comic strips and music videos and design a new bedroom, etc., rather than learn how to keyboard better which is what they THOUGHT they wanted to do in the club.

The book-in-waiting (on deck) is Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without Organizations." Here's Will's review of it. He has also created a Here Comes Everybody blog, designed to both chronicle and extend the themes of the book.

In the hole (and when did that get changed from "in the hold?") is Jonathan Zittrain's new book, "The Future of the Internet, and how to stop it." Quoting from his website: "With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation — and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control."

Two books that I've read most recently are 1) The Big Switch and 2) The Starfish and the Spider. Both of these books were recommended to me by Myk Garn. Good call Myk.

"The Big Switch - The Wiring of the World from Edison to Google," by Nicholas Carr was a fascinating read. It is a pretty controversial book and you can find plenty of people who have reviewed the book that are taking shots at both the book contents as well as Carr himself. I really enjoyed the more historical part of the book dealing with Edison, Henry Burden, and Samuel Insull. The electrification of America is something that I really didn't know that much about. There's some good stories in there. I do buy into his basic premise about current day computing moving from locally installed software to software as a service/utility. In this interview, his first answer pretty much sums it up: Q) What is this big switch you see coming? A) "I think we’re at the early stages of a fundamental shift in the nature of computing, which is going from something that people and businesses had to supply locally, through their own machines and their own installed software, to much more of a utility model where a lot of the computer functions we depend on are supplied from big, central stations, big central utilities over the Internet."

"The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations," by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. To give you the gist of their idea, I'll quote from their wiki: "How can Toyota leverage starfish principles to crush their spider-like rivals, GM and Ford? How did tiny Napster cripple the global music industry? Why is free, community based Wikipedia crushing Encyclopedia Britannica overnight? Why is tiny Craigslist crippling the global newspaper industry? Why is Al Quaeda flourishing and even growing stronger? In today's world to answer this it is essential to understand the potential strength of a starfish organization." I'm not quite sure how much of this applied to higher education where there will most likely always be leaders with concentrated powers within the organizations, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

The basic premise of Jay's statement that you are what you read (not sure if he coined the phrase or not, well, most probably not) is that our thinking is heavily influenced by what we read. I buy that, and besides the books listed above, these are the other books that have had the most impact on my thinking over the past couple of years:

Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig
Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams
A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink
The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
The Future of Ideas, by Lawrence Lessig
The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida
Getting Things Done, by David Allen

There are several other books that I'm not going to list because they didn't have as much of an effect on my thinking as those above. However, there's not one of the books that I've read in the past couple of years that felt like a complete waste of time. That's the advantage of getting your book recommendations from your network comprised of the people that you know are doing great things. In closing, I've probably also learned as much from the blogs that I read regularly as I have from all of these great books.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Email Sucks

It's official, e-mail as a communication tool has now become more trouble than it is worth. I believe that it now has negative value, which is worse than the zero value that I thought it had until recently.

Much of the e-mail that I send out gets marked as SPAM, and many of those messages are never discovered and released from the SPAM catcher by the supposed recipient. This first started to become apparent to me about a year ago when some members of the ITC Board were not receiving the messages that I sent to the board e-mail group. Then, the fact that my e-mail messages were not being received almost led to the loss of two speaking engagements at other colleges. They thought I was ignoring their e-mail messages when in fact they just weren't receiving my replies.

It's amazing to me that e-mails coming from my official college address ( continually get marked as SPAM by other .edu e-mail systems. The most recent (and saddest) example came earlier this week when I sent a message to the MnSCU CIO list asking for donations for a cash gift that we were giving to a colleague at the ITS conference earlier this week. It appears that many of the messages were never received, except for those who diligently checked their SPAM filters and released the message. Isn't there a certain irony there - that many of my messages sent to fellow CIOs in the same state system of colleges and universities are never actually delivered to the addressees? How valuable is that? How sad is that?

This particular message turned out to be the coup de grĂ¢ce for me. There are about 40 people on the CIO list who receive these messages (in theory, at least) and that of course includes me. So, when I am sending a message to this list, I am also sending a message to myself. Yep, you guessed it. The message sent from my address was marked as SPAM when sent to the same address. Apparently I have been blacklisted by myself.

Part of the problem has to do with the inadequacy of SPAM filters that are being used. However, another part of the problem is something that I don't have much control over. My e-mail address has definitely been used by spoofers, and apparently more than just once. E-mail spoofing is a growing problem which can easily cause a legitimate e-mail address (like mine) to get blacklisted by people who are victimized by the spoofer.

The bottom line for me is that I now have to spend an inordinate amount of time following up behind my e-mails to see if they have been received. If I don't hear back from someone I need to call them on the phone, or send an IM, or send another e-mail to their personal e-mail address if I know it. This constant game of "did you receive my email?" is a huge productivity drain and is really all you need to know about why I believe that e-mail now has negative value.

Monday, April 21, 2008

MnSCU ITS Conference

Here is part of the LSC crew of volunteers for the MnSCU ITS annual conference at Cragun's on Gull Lake outside of Brainerd, MN. Registration and setup today followed by 1.5 days of concurrent sessions, networking, and fun (oops, that's right, no fun allowed!)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Loving Guitar Hero

So my son had a birthday and got a gift of Guitar Hero for the Wii. He'd previously played it several times with his friends, but now we have our own CD and plastic guitar in the house. I wasn't too sure that I would be interested in it. I've never had much talent with real musical instruments and that appears to cross over to fake instruments as well. However, there is one very cool redeeming feature about Guitar Hero.

The best thing about Guitar Hero is that my kids are absolutely loving some of the music from my era, which hasn't really been the case until now. When I hear them singing and strumming to some of these songs, I just head on over to the den to join in or sit back and watch them in action:

  • Paint it Black (Stones, one of my all-time favorites)
  • La Grange (ZZ Top, the one song that they have liked from my CD collection)
  • Mississippi Queen (Mountain)
  • School's Out (AC)
  • Paranoid (BS)
  • Pride and Joy (SRV)
There are some newer songs on there as well, which they like but I don't seem to know much at all. Still, this is a good way of bringing the generations together.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Day One at Higher Learning Commission

Wow, what a day. What a crappy, lousy, frustrating day. Apparently I have become the most cynical person on the planet. I have an incredibly difficult time sitting through presentations where the presenters are either a) superfluous, b) clueless, c) close-minded, d) totally self-absorbed, e) a corporate salesperson, or f) not me (just guessing at this last one).

a) This first session would have been the best one of the day if the presenters would have simply talked about the video learning objects that they have created and how they are using them. But NO, they had to go too far. They went too far in claiming that their stuff was innovative (it was good, but nothing innovative in the world of technology). The other problem is that they were trying to tell the audience that their video learning objects are somehow interactive. OMG!! I will write a completely separate rant about that one (some of you know that this is a pet peeve of mine).

b) The second session was worse than the first. This whole presentation was about teaching students to make really lousy PowerPoint slide shows with all the goofy animations (spinning pictures) and typewriter sounds for text entering the screen), and saying that this is somehow what we should be doing with students in the digital age. Ice pick in my forehead on this one.

c) The third session was one of those where they tell you what they did and tell you that soon you will all being doing it - but they never once gave any evidence of a real problem that they were trying to solve. They are the best example of someone who will try to show you all sorts of data or student feedback without having any data in the first place to prove that there was a problem looking for a solution. More about this one later.

d) I attended a session this afternoon by a presenter that I have seen about 4-5 times previously. I always liked his style and his method, although I thought that his material was getting pretty stale over the years. In February I had the chance to see him deliver a keynote and was totally disappointed to see how this gentleman had completely turned into an egomaniac during the past few years. He is all about self-promotion, which I have a really hard time watching. After the debacle in February I decided to go see him again in hopes that the February gig was just a one off for him. The other reason that I went again was because he had a different title for this presentation and even the description sounded like I was going to see some new material from this former great speaker. WRONG!!! On both counts. It turns out that he really is a self-absorbed self promoter and his new session title and description was just sheep's clothing for the same old material and PPT slides. Total disappointment.

e) The corporate guy was talking about a website where students create their online profile so that colleges can hear about the student before they choose where to enroll, and then the colleges contact the students who fit the profiles that they are interested in recruiting. This session was called "Powertapping the Web 2.0 for Unique Students." Very funny. There was not one thing about the system that had anything to do with "THE" Web 2.0.
Maybe it got better after I left, but I'll never know - because I LEFT!

Not the best way for me to spend a Sunday - all day long! What will tomorrow bring? I shudder to think. (Sorry - apparently I'm in a mood today.)

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Chinese Ceramic Mural

Lake Superior College has recently been adorned with a new mural by famous Chinese artist Wenzhi Zhang from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Wenzhi has also taught here at LSC a couple of semesters during the past few years and she will return again this summer with many Chinese students in tow for another great learning community here in Duluth.

This montage of pictures (created at bighugelabs) shows the completed mural in the center, with one shot of the mural during assembly, and several close-ups showing some of the details. (Click to enlarge.) The 15' wide by 25' high relief sculpture, named “Stele,” is located near the front entrance to the new two-story academic and student services building that opened in Fall 2007. There are 120 individual stoneware ceramic tiles that comprising the mural. They are attached to an underlying steel framework. The tiles feature several Duluth landmarks including the Aerial Lift Bridge, boats on Lake Superior, the Depot, and the old Central High School clock tower.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Trying to BeFunky

I took one photo montage from my Flickr account and made four sample cartoon renderings from it using BeFunky, which is a rather funky site for creating cartoon panels out of photos. You'll see a few of the options in the slideshow below. Finally I made another of just the center picture from the montage and put a border/frame around it at BeFunky. Just trying it out.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Using geoTwitterous

I saw a tweet, followed the link, and 60 seconds later I had this map of Twitter Tweets on my blog. Pretty cool use of Pipes. Thanks Britt.