Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thing #17 - Three Inches for Rollyo

If you'd looked for me last Sunday, you'd have found me in Cancun, sitting under the shade of a papa, a dusting of white sand on my toes, warm breezes stirring the pages of my book, the crystalline waters of the Caribbean shimmering only yards away. Five days of heaven...

But, the problem of "getting away from it all" is that it is all still here when you return! For some that provides comfort -- my husband, for example, is always ready to get back to our normal routine. I would be in the opposing camp. Normal seems pale and dull and, well, so normal.

So maybe that explains my indifference to Thing #17 - Rollyo. For someone coming off a vacation high, it is just so linear , so focused. It allows for no spontaneity, no discovery. It creates a very small box.

Remember that scene from "The Jerk" when Navin (played by Steve Martin) is working at the carnival? To the question of what prize a particular winner gets, Navin responds "Uh, anything in this general area right in here. Anything below the stereo and on this side of the bicentennial glasses. Anything between the ashtrays and the thimble. Anything in this three inches right in here in this area. That includes the Chiclets, but not the erasers."

I know, I know - Sometimes, especially in the vastness of cyberspace, you long for someone to say "Look here - right in these three inches. This is where you will find your answers". Sometimes you want focus, sometimes you just want information, free of distractions. You know the websites you like, you know the ones you don't like, you know which are credible and which are just junk. Yes, sometimes a small area, created through a personalized search engine like rollyo, is exactly what you want.

And I'm sure in the fall, when I am helping my students with research or when I am looking for a particular piece of criticism, I will be glad to have put boundaries on the vastness of cyberspace, to have defined my own three inches of shelf space.

But not right now, not today. Today I want to keep the fullness of my vacation alive: bare feet, lightly tanned, splish-splashing down miles and miles of coastline.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thing #16 - Wikitopia: A solution to all of my technology problems?

Whew: talk about controversial! I think I'd rather talk about the upcoming election or religion or The College Bowl System than get into a debate about Wikipedia. Oh, you didn't know there was a debate?

Well, neither did I really: I knew there were concerns about the credibility of the contributors, and because of that I forbade my students from using Wikipedia as a source in research. Instead, I wanted my students to use criticism from scholarly sources and databases. It seemed an easy answer for me - end of story, right? Wrong!

Apparently, there is a whole storm a-brewing out there about the margin of error found in Wikipedia, how that margin compares to long-revered sources such as Encyclopedia Britannica, rebuttals from Wikipedia's founder...what a brouhaha! Or is it?

Honestly, credibility is an issue in every form of media isn't it? And isn't it incumbent upon us as consumers (of thought as well as material goods) to carefully screen whatever we purchase, whatever we believe? Do we allow our opinions, thoughts, values, etc. to be shaped by one source? Hopefully not.

That determined, I move on to more salient topics: creating our own wikis. Once again, the guys over at Common Craft make simple work of the topic. (I think I love them. Really.) For the last year or two, my partners and I have tried different technology applications hoping to generate online discussions among our students. Unfortunately, none of them worked very well. There was always some limitation, procedural or within the technology available, that hindered meaningful discussion.

I am hoping that wikis might offer a solution to the problems encountered. Looking at the wikis and blogs through the learn2play page, I came across some really neat applications. There was one great wiki on Hamlet. Have you guys seen it? If I can find it again, I will include the link in this posting. And the one from the New Jersey Public Library? Great!

I have only one question - how does what one posts in the sandbox differ from what one posts on the wiki itself? Anyone know? Am I exposing my ignorance again?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thing #15 - Tropic of Cancer or Tropic of Capricorn?

I know, I am so predictable, but I just have to do it! How could I live with myself if I didn't? How could I justify the hours and hours spent watching reruns? Some of you know that I am a great Seinfeld fan and sense where I am headed here -- others of you may be a bit baffled: what on earth is she talking about???

In Episode 22, "The Library," Jerry is investigated by Mr. Bookman, the New York Public Library's detective. At question - a copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer supposedly returned in 1971. Below are two particularly salient (not to mention darn funny) passages from the script:

Phillip Baker Hall visits Jerry in his apartment and issues a flaming oratory on the sanctity of the library and finally an ultimatum...

BOOKMAN: Well, let me tell you something, funny boy. Y'know that little
stamp, the one that says "New York Public Library"? Well that may not
mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole hell of a
lot. Sure, go ahead, laugh if you want to. I've seen your type
before: Flashy, making the scene, flaunting convention. Yeah, I know what
you're thinking. What's this guy making such a big stink about old
library books? Well, let me give you a hint, junior. Maybe we can live
without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we're too old to
change the world, but what about that kid, sitting down, opening a book,
right now, in a branch at the local library and finding drawings of
pee-pees and wee-wees on the Cat in the Hat and the Five Chinese
Brothers? Doesn't HE deserve better? Look. If you think this is about
overdue fines and missing books, you'd better think again. This is about
that kid's right to read a book without getting his mind warped! Or:
maybe that turns you on, Seinfeld; maybe that's how y'get your kicks. You
and your good-time buddies. Well I got a flash for ya, joy-boy: Party
time is over. Y'got seven days, Seinfeld. That is one week!

Later in the same episode, Bookman comments on the qualities and virtues of the librarian...

BOOKMAN: I remember when the librarian was a much older woman:
Kindly, discreet, unattractive. We didn't know anything about her private
life. We didn't want to know anything about her private life. She didn't
have a private life. While you're thinking about that, think about this:
The library closes at five o'clock, no exceptions. This is your
final warning. Got that, kewpie-doll?

I think these stereotypes fit so perfectly in the case of Thing #15. After reading the five perspectives one cannot help but accept that a great shift is occurring, and for myself may I say "Hallelujah!" Undoubtedly we all have our own "librarian" stories - have you ever read Eudora Welty's description of Mrs. Calloway, her hometown librarian? And, true, it may be unfair to place the blame solely on the librarian, but I'll bet that every one of us has run up against the archaic library system at some point in our life. Those of you who know me have heard (ad nauseum, probably) my own tale of woe as my "lending privileges were suspended" one summer. The sting of those whispered words still pierce my tender psyche.

But I digress. Back to the words "archaic library system": I think that is what the five perspectives presented in Thing 15/Library2.0 strive to overcome. While reading the words of each expert, I used my Google Notebook ( a pretty cool feature, by the way) to keep notes. As I did, I tagged key concepts, words, and phrases. When done, I couldn't help but notice the contrast of past and present. Take a look at the lists below...

Words used in discussing the past included:
remnants of a bygone information age
practices and attitudes that no longer make sense
difficult, expensive and slow
barriers that exist between patrons and the information they need
privileged with access
libraries no longer have the monopoly power that they had in the days before the Internet
policies and procedures that impede users’ access to the library

Words for the present and future?
anticipates the user’s every need
our patrons will expect access to everything
user-centric service
more humble in the current environment
a social and emotionally engaging center for learning and experience
breakdown barriers and allow users access wherever they are: home, work, commuting, school, or at the library
a climate of collaboration
users add value
social services
Libraries should welcome the submission of reviews, assignment of keywords (“tagging”), addition of scholarly commentary, and other forms of user participation

Forgive me for failing to cite each and every one of the five authors separately. For the quotes used in their exact contexts, see the links below.

So goodbye Mr. Bookman, Mrs. Calloway, and the lady in the pink sweater at the Hedwig Village libary. Times they are a'changing, and dinosaurs need not apply!

Five Perspectives:
Away from Icebergs
Into a new world of librarianship
To more powerful ways to cooperateTo better bibliographic services
To a temporary place in time

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thing # 14 - I'm a sucker for language...

Yes, it is true: I am attracted to words. Certainly single words pique our interest (see my students' list in the sidebar), but used collectively words wield a particularly seductive power.

A certain turn of words, a particular phraseology, the way some words come trippingly off the tongue - ah, that is true bliss. Go ahead, roll your eyes the way my students do (Or perhaps you are among those who nod silently or proffer a slight smile of agreement?)

I am not ashamed to admit my love of language, but I will concede that it does cause a certain blindness at times. Take, for example, the language used in the introduction to Thing 14: Technorati is described as "a portmanteau... of technology and literati...". Those words alone were music to my ears: portmanteau! literati! Could it be true? A thinker's approach to blogging?

Don't get me wrong - I am no great intellectual; in fact, each day I grow more and more aware of how little I really know. But, I do think it is important to discern between the truly important and that which I refer to as "mind candy". (Do you know how long I have been waiting to use those words ???) So, getting more directly to the point, based on the language used to describe it, I thought that Technorati would help elevate Internet above the influence of pop-culture and its associated forms of idiocy.

Well, I did admit that words could be seductive, didn't I? Only time will tell for certain, but I'm afraid that I may have been lured by the Sirens' song once again...

The two clips by the brain trust at Technorati offered the first glimpse of the conflict between theory and reality. Their own discussion, peppered with the language of democracy - the voice of the people, the authority of the people, rarefied versus regular people, the raw and uncut human experience, the voice of the regular guy bubbling up from the bottom - these words suggested that Technorati offered a portal through which the masses could be heard! Can't you just visualize Thomas Jefferson nodding in approval?

The problem is that, at least as indicated through my morning's sojourn through the site, the contributors to Technorati address the same topics that any other website does. Yes, it does allow the voice of the huddled masses to be heard, but we just don't have much to say...

Or am I wrong? I acknowledge the tendency to speak before I think, so please let me know if I am misguided. Maybe I just haven't given it a fair chance? Or have I been been foiled by words once again?

PS - Just so you don't think I'm completely close-minded, I've spent the last 36 hours mulling over my comments, and I have to amend my stance. (Go figure...) So, what follows is my confession. Should I sit behind a darkened panel for this, or is the relative anonymity of the Internet enough? At any rate, here it is: My assessment of Technorati was ill-informed, biased, and unfair. I operated out of a rigidly preconceived notion of what the site would be, and then when it wasn't what I expected I dismissed it with a sniff and huff. In doing so, I missed the point... Well, I didn't miss it, but I didn't fully appreciate the democratization of the blogosphere and how it completely changes the traditional relationship between knowledge users and brokers. It wasn't until this morning's readings associated with Thing#15 that this change really caught my attention. I won't divulge all of the details here: I don't want to spoil the activities for you. However, if you want another perspective of Technorati, one that really seems to synthesize the whole schmere (sp?), take a look at the link below.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thing # 13 -Something is abuzz at the bottom of the page...

Have any of you read Gary Paulsen's Hatchet? If so, you no doubt remember poor Brian surrounded by swarms of gnats and mosquitoes even to the degree that his eyes and nose were clouded by the offenders! That horrifying image always stuck with me, and to a large degree it colored the way that I looked at social bookmarking tags. I considered them a nuisance, an unwelcome presence that buzzed about the bottom of webpages I tried to view.

I wasn't sure of these semantic intruders' origins nor could I speak to their intent, but I did know that ignoring them and hoping they would go away was out of the question. The blue underlined pests buzzed around the screen and distracted me from my webquests. Honestly, if I came across a website or blog that harbored these little intruders, I would hit the back button with lightning speed. Could any site that gave refuge to that disorganized mess of words (and I do hate a mess!) really be credible? Really?

Well, that was my opinion until the wee hours of this morning. Imagine my surprise when I heard that these "tags" (as I learned they were called) really held some value. I have to credit the guys at Common Craft for my changed heart: really, those fellows are amazing! Who would ever have thought that a white board, a few paper dolls, and a dry-erase marker could be such an effective educational tool?

Once I watched their video and listened to the podcast by Kathleen Gilroy, my previous disdain melted away. Concepts like "the magic middle," "topical authority," and "folkarchy" suddenly added purpose to what I previously considered worthless junk.

After such a thorough introduction into, Furl and Ma.gnolia seemed to pale in comparison, so I didn't even pursue them. Instead, I just played around with the tags already posted in, spending most of my time in the most popular tags in the food section.

So, what is my new and improved opinion of social bookmarking? Well, I like the idea of using one's own system of organization to create order out of the increasing tangled worldwide web. How many times have I wished that there was a better way to categorize my bookmarks, one that would allow greater flexibility in nomenclature? My own word associations do far more to charge the synapses than do the stilted titles of some website. The title of the play Tanglewood Tales is a far better reminder than the name of the article which discusses the play, "Hawthorne in Salem."

But will I use it? Will I encourage my students to use it? I think I'll have to be sure that those little clouds at the bottom of the screen are fireflies or lightning bugs before I do!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thing #12 - She's Quite a Talker, Isn't She?

Well, I'm glad to be back on solid footing after the Library Thing/ Shelfari debacle. I was going to go back and amend that post; however, I decided that other readers might actually enjoy reading about my vexations and frustrations.

And I have become mindful of my readers, haven't you all? At first, I just wrote away in seeming anonymity, likening my blog to a single grain of sand on the beach. How could it ever be discerned from among the others? And quite frankly, I doubted that anyone would actually want to read it!

And so I just started writing. And guess what? You guys showed up! At first I was self-conscious, especially as I knew some of the other bloggers, but then other screen names began popping up, and viola, a readership was born!

However, the flip side of the audience is the commitment, and in that sense, blogging is rather like dating : the first encounters are exhilarating, but sooner or later you have to decide whether or not you really want to pursue this relationship. Do I write back? If so, what do I say? I don't want to sound too forward, yet on the other hand I want to say something meaningful...

Thing #12 has reminded me that blogging is indeed a relationship, and all relationships require risk. So this morning I have been visiting the blogs of those who have commented on my blog: DaydreamsinTechnicolor and VWB and Susannadare and Rose, first just looking around but ultimately taking the plunge and leaving a post or two.

Now I will have to venture out a bit and leave a post at other blogs that I read regularly. It is amazing that my shyness follows me even into cyberspace: will it seem random that some woman from Houston, Texas just popped in? Well, I guess we'll find out! I'm off to visit and and all of the other places to make my presence known...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thing #11 - The Agony and The Ecstacy

Allow me a moment to vent as I begin this post - again, for the fourth, maybe even the fifth time. Until yesterday morning I tippy-toed merrily along through the requirements, finding joy in each of the assignments - well, ok, maybe not in the RSS newsfeeds, but that difficulty stemmed more from a philosophical question than with the actual applications.

I eagerly anticipated the Library Thing, having seen on other players' pages rows and rows of books, neatly arranged on a shelf... I created my account, added my titles, and prepared my books for viewing; however, I couldn't figure out how to make the bookshelf. Look at the boring little sidebar on the right side of the page: that is no way to display something one loves!
Can anyone out there help me?

I have tried a hundred different ways of using the tools offered on Library Thing, but all I succeeded in doing was to erase my original post which was, if I might say so, quite inspired.
(Someone left my cake out in the rain, and I tried so hard to make it, and it took so long to bake it, and I'll never have that recipe again... Oh, forgive the 70's flashback/self-induced pity party!)

I'm hoping that someone out there is actually reading this and can help...

Oh, it is Shelfari!!! Thank you, Bibliophile Blogger, for mentioning this in one of your posts!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thing #10 - Visions of Sugarplums Poetry Blender

My early morning quest for an ice-cream cake recipe to share on Father's Day must have a lingering effect... (I'm thinking of a chocolate jelly-roll cake with bing cherry ice cream if anyone has a good recipe!).

But on to more salient topics like the image generators: what fun! The greatest difficulty I encountered was deciding from among the options. I started with the Custom Sign Generator and after sifting through the 51 links offered therein created the "Dummies" image found down the page a bit.

Amused but not fully satisfied (kind of like eating Jello), I pressed on to Image Chef. Gratified to see the words "Visual Poetry" pop up on the page, I knew I was in the right place. Using the Poetry Blender I created the ice cream image that you see above.

Applications for the classroom? Let your mind run wild. For my own students, I can see covers for their outside reading novels, venues for their found poetry and embellished words, etc. What a great tool for the kids who are inspired to create but are, in their own words, "not good at art."

Well, since these generators give birth to flights of fancy, let me offer a little bit of whimsy to send you on your way...

Bleezer's Ice Cream

by Jack Prelutsky

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
there are flavors in my freezer
you have never seen before,
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
why not do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list:

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
taste a flavor from my freezer,
you will surely ask for more.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thing #9 - Recall on yesterday's scepticism

Well, yesterday I took the sceptics stance toward newsfeeds; today, though, I adopt a more broad-minded view of the opportunities available through blogs and newsfeeds. I'm not just playing nice -- I'm not a born-again newsie, either. I've simply spent a little more time with the tools and technology available and am more appreciative of the value offered by blogs and newsfeeds.

Particularly influential in my changed thinking was the article about creating your own "Circle of the Wise" at This author's stance toward character, inspiration, responsibility, etc. assuaged some of my concerns and helped guide my own blog searches.

So, using Coolcat's guidelines, I searched by character and credibility in the areas that I enjoy. Using bloglines and google, I started with William Safire, then on to Jan Freeman, and so on.
These search methods may seem archaic in light of the myriad available, but given my fledgling knowledge and tendency to be overwhelmed by too much information I thought it best to keep it simple.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thing 8 - RSS News Feeds and the Problem of "Getting the Scoop"

As long as I am quoting the Transcendentalists (see post #7), let me return to my friend Thoreau once again:

And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter — we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.

So there you have it, friends: an intriguing view of the news. Even though Thoreau wrote these words over 100 years ago, it seems particularly apt today: Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip. It seems that modern society has a constant eye and ear for the "news." With scrolling bars and constantly updated windows, one will surely be abreast of the latest events and by extension better prepared for... for what? Aye, there's the rub!

I find that with the information glut, it becomes nearly impossible to determine who and what is truly important. Brittany Spears shares top billing with the upcoming presidential election and tsunami victims in the East. Huh! Paradoxically it seems that the wider availability of information often obscures one's knowledge of that which is truly important.

Perhaps that is why I found this particular "Thing" difficult. Not the application itself, but the question of to which news feeds I would subscribe. To subscribe is a very powerful word and has great implications, suggesting not only that I elect to receive something but more importantly that I endorse the material and way of thinking contained within. Yipes! I know, some of you are thinking I am waaaaay too serious about this stuff. It is called play, isn't it? I shall adopt a lighter tone as I move on from philosophy to application, I promise!

So, on to more practical matters. Our basic questions for this thing were as follows:

What do you like about RSS and newsreaders?
How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your school or personal life?
How can libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?
I think I have responded to the first question, although indirectly. We'll have to live with that type of answer. As for use in my school life, I can definitely see linking a couple of the RSS topics (book reviews, human interest stories and essays from NPR) to my school website, if that is possible. (Does anyone out there know the answer to that one?)
Also, as we are encouraging our AP students to become students of the world and to broaden their horizons beyond 77024, the newsfeeds seem a great way to encourage awareness of local, domestic, and international happenings. And even though she expressed a certain derision and scorn for news in her opening comments, the humble English teacher might learn something as well...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Thing #7 - Cool Tools!

Well, a few days have passed since my last post, but I am back to my 23 things. This evening I played around with the myriad of tools that Google has to offer, specifically the calendar, notebook, and news alerts.
I have to begin my response with a disclaimer of sorts: I am not a calendar keeper. (Perhaps this is why I never know what the date is! I rely on my A.R friends, family, and students for this information. My watch does have a date window, but as my forty-something vision changes, that added enhancement becomes moot. I love that word - moot! I shall add it to the list of words I love...) But I digress: generally, I can keep about a month's worth of important dates in my mind, and I leave planning beyond that to my husband. JTKIII is a great calendar keeper - - pages are color coded by event and events planned up to a year in advance.

This cavalier attitude toward planning might suggest to some that I am disorganized or careless, but I am not. I just resist the idea of filling my days for the sake of filling them. Remember what Thoreau said about "work, work, work!" and the "infinite bustle" of human life. "Simplify, simplify, simplify," he offered instead, and it is a suggestion that I try take to heart.

As long as I am quoting my favorite transcendentalists, let me throw in a little Emerson.: "Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. " So now, drawing on latitude offered by those particular words, I will add that for all of my resistance to calendars in my personal life, I do (of course) keep several s calendars in my professional life, ranging from long-range overviews of the school year, semester overviews, monthly calendars, and daily lesson plans. In that light, I can see an application for this tool with my students. How about a class calendar posted on my website? Homework assignments, upcoming tests, papers and projects, library dates, etc... Could students even post dates on the calendar? It can be edited by multiple parties, I think! I played around with the options, and it is quite easy to use.

And speaking of student use, have you looked at the Google Notebook? Any teacher that has taken a class of kids to the library for research will find this feature helpful. Because of the great library website that our district created and all of the wonderful resources we have to choose from, the kids have little trouble finding material; however, organizing it and keeping up with their print outs is another matter. Wouldn't it be neat to have them use the Google Notebook as a system of record keeping? With all of the neat organizational tools this feature offers, the students could even arrange their material into an outline of sorts.

Oh, one last option I used was the News Alert feature, setting up a daily e-mail alert with news releases featuring "Top Chef." It is on Wednesday night, you know... Who will it be? Richard, Stephanie, or Lisa? My fellow TC afficianados know that I have been plotting against Lisa for some time now, just waiting for her to get the boot... surely tonight will be the night! Back to the news alert, I'll be anxious to see what ends up in my e-mail tomorrow following tonight's program.

Thing #4 - I'm registered!

Forgot to include this post earlier, but registered I am!