Google Does It Again. . .

Not to turn this blog into a Google love-fest, but their latest acquisition is pretty darn cool. Over the weekend, an annoucement showed up on the Google homepage that they’ve acquired Keyhole, a “3D digital earth pioneer.”

From Keyhole’s Web site:

Keyhole’s groundbreaking EarthStream™ technology combines advanced 3D graphics and network streaming innovations to produce a high performance system that runs on standard PC’s and commodity servers. Both high performance and intuitive to use, Keyhole’s solutions enable anyone to manipulate a rich map of the earth composed of imagery and feature information.

You can read more here.

Google hasn’t announced what it plans to do with Keyhole, but for the time being, you can download a free 7-day trial. It’s sort of GPS, satellite imagery, and cool 3D rendering all rolled into one.

Of course, what really hooked me is that one of the high-resolution cities available is Missoula. Sigh. I can’t hike the M anymore, but it’s still nice to do a virtual fly-by.

A Very Special Google

Just read an article at The New York Times about a new Google search:

http://scholar.google.com/

From the Times article:

Google Scholar, which was scheduled to go online Wednesday evening at scholar.google.com, is a result of the company’s collaboration with a number of scientific and academic publishers and is intended as a first stop for researchers looking for scholarly literature like peer-reviewed papers, books, abstracts and technical reports.

I haven’t had a chance to play with this new tool yet, but it looks like yet another interesting “take” on searching from Google.

The original Times article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/18/technology/18google.html.

Getting Control of Those Blogs. . .

Check out blogdigger. This service allows you to aggregate several RSS/Atom feeds into a single Web page from which you can then generate a new, compiled RSS feed (to be consumed anyway you choose).

I found this service while working on our DTLT community Web site where I had been consuming a feed for each of the blogs generated by each of the DTLT staff members. This wasn’t working very well because of the amount of space it took up on the page (particularly since it showed the most recent posts for each blog even if they were pretty old). What I really wanted was one feed that would compile the most recent posts from each of our blogs–enter blogdigger.

I can also see how you could use it to create a group of RSS feed that you could then access from any computer via the Web–and consume in any aggregator. Pretty cool.

Who Turned On the Lights?

One thing that I really wanted to experience before leaving Missoula was the Northern Lights. For two summers, I hoped that I would catch a glimpse of this amazing phenomenon. I know that it is possible to see them as far south as Virginia, but the occurences are rare and not nearly as dramatic as up north (or so I’m told).

So imagine my dissapointment when I checked out The Missoulian Web site yeserday and discovered that western Montana (and much of north-Northern America) has been bathed in these lights for the last few nights.

Take a look

Nothern Lights Over Missoula

Standards-Based Slideshows

For those of you who have never heard of him, Eric Meyer is a css god. And the latest css “breakthrough” I’ve discovered over on his site is A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show.

Basically, the “tool” provided is a slideshow template that you can use to create an XHTML file that (using css and javascript) will play a simple slideshow in a browser. Users don’t need PowerPoint or any plugin in order to view the slide.

So you might be thinking, “So what. I can output HTML files from PowerPoint and publish my slideshows that way.” But this slideshow is contained in a single XHTML file which can be easily printed and is totally accessible. And, of course, it is standards-compliant.

And don’t we all love standards?

Chatter

Following a conversation that I virtually participated in at this year’s Educause, I am getting interested in the topic of bots. Rather than recap that conversation here, I’ll point you to other places where it has already been discussed and summarized:

So, the result of that experience is that I’m getting interested in the idea of bots as intelligent agents for teaching and learning. I’m starting to fish around in the literature and Web resources out there, and I’m coming away with a few early impressions. The best way to illustrate those it to point to a few online bots as examples. Here are two:

Jabberwacky reminds me of several bots that I’ve “chatted” with in recent days, and while other users leave comments that the conversations are amazing and unbelievably human, I find them sort of unsatisfying–I never forget that I’m talking to a computer and, frankly, the conversation isn’t very stimulating.

“Jack” on the other hand is downright spooky and, I think, pretty darn cool. His responses are cryptic, but they actually leave me with the sense that I’m conversing with a madman. They also seem to be leading me somewhere, although I’m not sure where. . .

In the end, I think this has to do with the two very different purposes these two different types of “bot” serve. Jabberwacky is simply meant to “chatter” with you. While it has built in intelligence (and you can, apparently, actually teach it things), the end result is sort of mindless, well, chatter. Jack on the other hand is meant to be the embodiment of a real person, with a real agenda and historical context. He can’t talk about everything (I’m sure his intelligence about 20th century movies is minimal), but he can respond to questions that are pertinent to his world in a real and nuanced way. I think he presents an interesting example of how we could create bots that bring a person (fictional or real) to “life” for students.

These are still initial impressions; I’ll post more as I make more friends.

Yahoo

Last night I finished reading Gulliver’s Travels. I’m ashamed to admit that I never read it in its entirety before–just excerpts in high school. And about a week ago I was in need of some “comfort reading” and turned to my recently unpacked shelf of the children’s classic illustrated library, and there was gulliver looking me straight in the eye. I thought, “what the heck.”

It’s a great read, although by the end of the second part, I was having trouble figuring out the scale of things. Then I got to the third part, where Gulliver ends up on the island of the Houyhnhnms. (can someone please tell me how I’m supposed to pronounce this?) At the end, when Gulliver was sent away and had to return to living among humans, who he now identified as yahoos, I was a little perturbed. I mean, come on Gulliver, ease up on your poor wife and kids. Its not their fault they weren’t born horses! And it seemed like he was kind of overreacting a little–after 5 years among the Houynhnms, he simply couldn’t abide any human contact? I understand that the yahoos were crass, dirty, uneducated animals, but they weren’t really the same species that poor Mrs. Gulliver was. I wanted Gulliver to grow up and suck it up.

Then I listened to the news this morning.

And heard the terrible story of a college girl in Boston who was killed after the playoffs game when police were forced to shoot rubber bullets into a rioting crowd. No word on whether this girl was actually rioting; it sounded more like she was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when some people in this crowd thought the only way they could celebrate the Red Sox victory was to light cars on fire, the police had to take dramatic, and in this case, deadly action.

Then I realized I could understood how Gulliver felt. How can these people be of the same race as the human beings I live among? What on earth possesses humans to take to the streets after something as (sorry sports fans) meaningless as a sporting event to destroy property and endanger lives? HOW CAN ANYONE THINK THIS IS RIGHT?

I know there are people out there for whom sports are important. I happen to be married to one of them. But when the Packers lose a football game, he’s sort of bummed for a couple of hours. He doesn’t think it necessary to punch holes in our walls or inflict bodily injury on anyone.

So, I guess the yahoo/human dichotomy really does exist. I hate to sound like an elitist, but can we pack all of these yahoos onto a boat and send them to live on their own island?

The Key to Competitiveness: Understanding the Next Generation Learner (AASCU article)

I came across this article today (featured on Educause’s newly redesigned Web site) about the changing landscape of defining IT strategy in higher education. On the whole, it was an interesting article, and maybe later I’ll comment on the general thesis. But what struck me most today was the first few pages describing the technology-savvy of a typical undergraduate at UCF.

In light of our recent TLTR conversation about the technology proficiency at UMW, I was left wondering if we were missing the boat. One of the main points of the article was that the technology savviness of undergraduates should actually be driving our development of IT strategy and inspiring our faculty to do more with technology. Whereas, our conversations about the technology proficiency seem to assume that we’re leading the students to technology.

I just wonder whether in 2004 in makes a lot of sense for us to be investing so much effort in testing students’ word processing skills. This might have made sense 2-3 years ago, but does it still make sense now? If we can assume that technology is as deeply infused in our students’ lives as the ones in this article, do they really benefit much from what we’re currently asking them to do in the technology proficiency?

After our meeting on Wedneday, I’ve been spending some time digging around for information about similar programs at other schools. I was sort of surprised when I didn’t get a single result from searching for “technology proficiency” in Educause’s online library. Trying alternative search queries and digging around on the Web didn’t yield much more. I was pretty surprised, actually, at how few schools I turned up that were running similar programs. Most of the programs that I did find seemed to have been created around 2001 and haven’t been updated since then.

I think we definitely should be working to infuse the curriculum with more technology-focussed experiences, but I think our work should reflect (to the greatest extent possible) the most current trends in technology, and, in particular, how students are embracing those trends.

On an unrelated note, I really liked the interface that the aacsu article used. I’m someone who has trouble reading and digesting text online (I often resort to printing), and I found this book-like interface very easy to use.

tales of swimming upstream