Thursday, August 31, 2006

Beta Blogger Spell Check (and singing the Beta Blues -- wah, wah, wah)

While I'm excited about Beta Blogger's new spell-check interface (ostensibly what I'm posting about here), I've got the beta blues. Apparently, Google has decided to revamp Blogger and re-release it in beta form [tour]. < .rant > I became aware of this in the typical force-it-on-the-end-user fashion. I went to log in to post one day with my Blogger login (that's fun to say! and sounds Swedish!) when some arcane constellation of cookies and "remember me" functionality, or some other "under the hood" hoodoo that I don't fully understand, notified me that I could now log in with my Google account. Not aware of the new release, I said, "Um, sure, whatever" and am apparently beta-testing the new version [I switched without realizing it]. What's got me a little miffed is this new version no longer plays nicely with Flickr, so I can't auto-post from there and don't know when I'll be able to again. Flickr Support answered my query with,
If you meant the beta for the new Blogger, we are waiting
for more things to be in place from Blogger before it will
Um, ok. It's the same feeling I get when my bank gets eaten by a bigger bank and I get issued a new, uglier ATM card or my phone service gets swallowed by a bigger phone service and I loose track of just who the hell my phone company is. Yes, there's probably myriad documentation that would let me know what's going on, but this end-user just wants to post. < /rant >

One feature of the beta version is a new "holistic" spell check. Rather than walking the user sequentially from the first to last suspect word, all suspect words are highlighted and become clickable for a drop-down menu of replacement options. I was pleased. I found the new spell-check easier to manage and easier for quickly assessing "real" and false-positive misspellings. While MS Word's on-the-fly red underlining is similar, I find this "highlight it when I say so" less intrusive during writing and the highlighting is easier to scan visually (better contrast), so I find it easier to scan. I'd be happy if this became a new standard.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just Start Playing with It

Daily video-blogger Ze Frank, in a not-so-recent post (warning: Ze is a little NSFW), hits the nail on the head with how to learn software and the limits of the traditional academic approach to learning, two things I try to be mindful of. He's got a pithy little discussion of how the best way to learn something (software, guitar) is to just start playing with it and cautions against the academic tendency to over-theorize. That we don't necessarily have to grok the thing-to-be-learned in its entirety before proceeding. Now, as a good little academic, I believe there's nothing so useful as a good theory. But, I do strive to balance theory and praxis in my classes. Ze's comments remind me of Johndan's anecdote of his daughter "learning" how to play a game. From Datacloud...
I watched as my daughter, Carolyn, then 7, played a computer game... The interface sported almost no explanatory text or conventionally meaningful icons; the brief instructions were written in German... She was not intimidated, confused, or annoyed; she seemed to consider the lack of instructions part of the game. She merely started the game and began clicking on objects...
He includes a snippet of their conversation about the game:
J: How do you know which blocks to hit?
C: I just... hit them.
J: So how do you figure out what the rules are?
C: Just play.
J: Just play? And then what happens?
C: You just... play.
(p. 3)
Ze Frank is one of my favorite Internet Personalities. He's funny, very clever/innovative, and often provides something interesting to consider -- thinking so I don't have to.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A lot going on

I glanced down at my task bar today and marveled at the variety of crap I had open. I don't claim this to be more than anyone else has open at any given time. Rather, I think this is the way many of us work all the time and this is why I study mediated writing processes.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cory Doctorow - Writing a Novel

4 min 33 sec - Apr 24, 2006

G'Video: Novelist Cory Doctorow describes his writing process, lists the tools he uses, and provides advice to writers.

Me: He has a very pragmatic approach to being a productive writer and how tools and processes affect productivity. Thanks, MIT Comparative Media Studies New Media Literacies Project!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Watched most of Steamboy [W'pedia] last night, a fun film about the dangers of technological development motivated by greed rather than desire to help humanity. Naturally, this morality is a bit simplistic, but here's my favorite (translated subtitle) line in the movie so far:
An invention with no philosophy behind it is a curse. ~Dr. Lloyd Steam
I wonder if this applies to happy little accidental inventions?

Friday, August 04, 2006

William Gibson on Chat

Just finished Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Great read. The book is filled with numerous insightful metaphors. He has this to say about chat rooms:
And right now there are three people in Chat, but there's no way of knowing exactly who until you are in there, and the chat room she finds not so comforting. It's strange even with friends, like sitting in a pitch-dark cellar conversing with people at a distance of about fifteen feet.

The distance/dark metaphor (simile, technically) nails the problem of turn-taking in chat. With no non-verbal signals, turn-taking is problematic. (The same thing can happen in phone calls with significant time-delay.) One innovation that I’ve noticed helps turn taking is the relatively new “X is now typing” cues, though these exist primarily in instant messaging programs, not sure about chat rooms. Aim states it:

Google Talk gives an icon:

Both help reduce the “15 feet” effect.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Writing for later

Here's a teaching life-hack I've implemented to help me make ongoing improvements to my class. For each class I teach, I keep a Notepad document called "0_change.txt" in the folder (the "0_" prefix keeps it at the top of the file structure). Each time something doesn't work quite right in class, I make a note in that file. I often don't have time to implement the change at the moment I think of it, so this note includes reminders of where information is or specifically what needs to change. When I prepare to run the class again, I use the file as a punch list of improvements to make.

The Information Machine

The Information Machine: Man and the Data Processor
cartoon by Charles and Ray Eames
1957 (public domain)
Available at

"traces the history of storing and analyzing information from the days of the cavemen to today's age of electronic brains"