Fortress of Solitude

My youngest has the unfortunate habit of taking a glass upstairs for water every night and not bringing them back down in the morning. When I looked in his room a few minutes ago I said, “Noah, the very next thing you will do is take all of these glasses downstairs! There’s so much crystal in your room that it looks like the Fortress of Solitude. I’m afraid a hologram of Jor-El is going to appear!”

But he just looked at me blankly, because he had no idea what I meant. So, the moral of the story is that today I learned that I have neglected to ensure that my youngest has seen the original Superman movie from 1978, the one directed by Richard Donner that stars the late great Christopher Reeve. We will correct this at the earliest opportunity. I just hope it doesn’t inspire him to take more glasses up there rather than fewer….

T-Shirts, Teen Sarcasm, and Free Culture

Speaking of Noah stealing my t-shirts and of Creative Commons, the following exchange recently took place:

Me: Ah, so I see that you stole my Creative Commons t-shirt.
Noah: Yeah, I love closed captioning!
Me: You know full well that means Creative Commons.
Noah: Right, I mean I love creative commas!

Life with sarcastic teenagers! Honestly, I have no idea where he gets it….

Using Wikipedia Articles To Make OER Textbooks

“We are going to have to invest in our people and make available to them participation in the great educational process of research and development in order to learn more. When we learn more, we are able to do more with our given opportunities.” — Buckminster Fuller

open educational resources
Yesterday was pretty busy. We had a slightly belated family party for my eldest son’s sixteenth birthday, a trip to Warrenton and back to drop off my daughter, and, of course, watching the most excellent and exciting Superbowl in years, complete with a victory for the Baltimore Ravens, who I’d chosen as my favorite based more or less on proximity. D.C. and Baltimore are basically one big area, and they had to root for our football team during their years in the post-Colts wilderness, so when they make it to the big game it seems good to return the favor. Besides, D.C. people were in Orioles’ territory until the Nationals showed up, so rooting for a Baltimore team isn’t all that strange around here.

But enough about all that. In between those other events, I made a presentation for the online CO13 conference on how to use Wikipedia’s Book Creator tool to make quick, easy OER textbooks from Wikipedia articles. I “um” and “uh” too much — as a presenter I’m not exactly Frederick Douglass. But the information is there. I plan to distill it into a working paper for the Free Curricula Centre when I get the chance, so if you’re not in a hurry you may want to just wait for that.

If you are in a hurry, though, there is a recording of the presentation.

Shall We Play A Game?

“Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.” — Steven Wright

One of the problems with usually being busy is that it means that I don’t have enough time for games. At various times in my life I’ve been more interested in games than others. For example, I’ve had friends who were into games of chance. I joined two friends for a night at a casino once, and while my luck wasn’t very good it was worth it as the price of admission into a different world. Nowadays that sort of thing is all over the Internet too, of course. The U.S. government and its various state subsidiaries would rather Americans didn’t gamble online, but of course millions do anyway. Fortunately there are are great sites for online gaming in Europe and other places that are willing to offer people the fun that they actually want.

I really liked stand up video games when I was a kid, way back when not only were there still arcades, but all the games inside were playable for a quarter. I didn’t really get into video gaming at home, I liked some of those games, especially the Civilization series, and a few others like it. In fact Civilization is one of the few things I sort of miss having been on Linux for so long. There are people who get the Windows versions of the game running just fine on Linux using WINE, and I’ve thought about it, but not only would it take a while to get all of that configured, once I’d succeeded I know myself well enough to realize I’d spend way too many hours getting all my roads converted to railroads, or trying to take key cities from the evil Babylonians next door. Better to avoid temptation!

When I was a kid, and intermittently ever since, I’ve found the time for role playing games. I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons ever since its first edition, and as an old hand at it I come down firmly in favor of Pathfinder as opposed to Hasbro’s disastrous fourth edition. My friends at the time and I played a number of lesser known ones as well, Paranoia, Shadowrun, and my all time favorite, Space: 1889, which offered a Victorian science fiction setting where the invention of ether flyers allowed the British Empire and its rivals to vie for influence throughout the swamps of Venus and beside the canals of Mars.

Getting back to playing cards, this one is actually pretty special to me, because the boys and I literally have our own game. Called BattleCards, it’s sort of like those collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh in terms of strategy and game mechanics, but it uses a normal deck of cards instead of custom cards that you have to keep buying and buying and buying to remain a competitive player. I more or less designed it over a long period of time, and the boys have helped me playtest it. Anyone who like those sorts of games really ought to check it out.

Also in the low tech area are board games, and the two that see the most action in my house are Risk and its grown up alternative, Axis & Allies. After all, if you’re going to play a board game, the fate of the world may as well be at stake! And then there’s Scrabble, which Adella got me into long ago, and while it may not seem to offer similar stakes to global domination, it’s still taken very seriously in my house. After all, if you’re playing me at Scrabble, it’s your word against mine, and really, what could be more intriguing?

My Son The Ringleader

“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” — V, in V for Vendetta

I have four kids, Duncan is 15, Fiona is 12½, Fenris is 11, and Noah is 7. While they’re close knit, they’re all very different from one another, and some of them are better at attracting attention than others. In fact, typically Duncan, Fiona, and Noah get the most attention, usually through error, and poor Fenris, who even gets called “the good one” from time to time, often hears from us the least. In fact, sometimes he’s so well behaved that I wonder whether he takes after me in temperament at all, or whether he really just takes after his mild-mannered mom.

It seems however, that there’s an anti-authoritarian streak in him after all. As a fifth grader, he’s in the uppermost class at his elementary school, which means this is his sixth and final year there. Recently the school changed their procedure for where kids sit during lunch, making it more restrictive and having them all sit in a row rather than where they can face one another and socialize while eating. It was an unpopular change among students, and Fenris took it upon himself to resist it.

His first step was to draft a petition calling on school administrators to return to the previous lunch seating arrangement, getting many of his fellow students to sign it, and even getting the signature of one of the teachers. On delivering this petition to administrators, he discovered what most activists soon discover — when the will of the people can be easily ignore by authority figures, the smart money bets that the people will be disregarded by those in authority.

Undaunted, he organized his friends to take chalk with them to recess, and write what he described as “V for Vendetta” symbols on the blacktop as a continuing protest. The only response was that they were told not to use the school’s chalk for such a purpose. Still undaunted, he then got his friends to bring chalk from home so they could continue to express their opinion without being accused of misusing school resources.

It was at this point that he was sent to the principal’s office, because he was identified as a “ringleader” of what was happening. He wasn’t suspended or expelled or anything like that, but they did confiscate his chalk (his chalk, mind you) telling him that what he and his friends were doing was “vandalism” — even though rain would wash it away and even though strangely it wasn’t considered vandalism when other students would draw on the blacktop with chalk for reasons other than expressing their opinion about school policy, e.g., drawing squares for hopscotch and the like. In fairness, he also got an explanation for the change in lunch seating procedure, although he wasn’t particularly impressed by its reasoning.

Now, I have the feeling he’s gone as far as he wants to go with this, and that’s his call. But even though his mother was appalled, I told him that I was proud of him for not being intimidated by authority figures. In the long run, he’ll be much better off if he’s not swayed by those who want to bend him to their will, and in particular doesn’t let those who are supposed to be educating him steal his dreams.

Busting A Move

“I replaced the headlights in my car with strobe lights, so it looks like I’m the only one moving.” — Steven Wright

Over on the resume page I’ve updated my address, and I suppose that calls for a bit of explanation!

One of the most fun things in life is to move from one house to another. Well, okay, it’s not really all that much fun. But it is a pretty big experience, at least. I say this because this past weekend my family and I moved houses. Even since my oldest son came to live with me it had seemed like there was just one room too few to meet everyone’s needs. In particular, I’d really noticed the lack of a space of my own, however small, that no one else ever touched. It didn’t help that we’d been there for five years — which means little things just accumulated over time until the house felt like it was bursting at the seams.

We only moved two blocks, and from one townhouse to another, so there are a number of comparisons to be made. It’s unquestionably a good move, but as with most things in life, there are tradeoffs. The old house had less space, but it was closer to the trail along Holmes Run that is a great place for walking. The parking lot for the old house was never full, but at the new house parking is pretty limited for visitors. The old house was part of a large complex consisting entirely of townhouses where a lot of us shared a fairly large courtyard. The new house is right on the street, although it has a back yard that’s fenced off and consists almost entirely of a huge deck under a large holly tree, which is very pleasant.

But most importantly, the new place is much larger. In particular it has a basement, the new lair of my teenager, although part of the deal for him to get that kind of space was that when his siblings are around that’s the place that will be their containment area. The living room on the main floor is large enough that it would serve well for entertaining, although the parking situation will mitigate that. But most importantly, to me, there are enough rooms that one of them is my office, where I can leave things knowing no one will move them, and where I can concentrate without hearing what’s going on elsewhere in the house. Similarly, Adella likes the kitchen so much she’s taking the breakfast nook over as her own workspace.

So there we are. We actually took the opportunity to get rid of a lot of extra stuff while we were packing, and I think we’ll manage to divest ourselves of a bit more during what is turning out to be a fairly lengthy unpacking process. And if we can figure out where people would park we do hope to have a housewarming party in the near future — although in the interest of not ending up in the same boat it will definitely be a gift-free one!

Body Surfing

“Surfing soothes me, it’s always been a kind of Zen experience for me. The ocean is so magnificent, peaceful, and awesome. The rest of the world disappears for me when I’m on a wave.” — Paul Walker

Waves III
I recently spent a few days at the beach with the kids, and the older boys and I engaged in one of our favorite seaside activities, body surfing. If you’ve never done this, it’s when you’re out a ways into the sea, just past where waves are cresting as them come into shore. If you start swimming at just the right time with a wave that’s shaped in just the right way, it will pick you up and carry you all the way in.

Obviously, this uses the same principle that surfing with a board does. And sure enough, while we were out there, we were sharing that section of ocean with quite a few surfers on surfboards. But as cool as those folks look, I came to wonder what they were getting out of the experience that we weren’t. They weren’t really any further out when they would catch a wave. They didn’t seem to be able to ride the waves they caught in as far as we could. Most importantly, it seemed to me that the quality of their experience was inferior to ours.

What I mean by that is that the biggest difference I could see is that the board surfers were riding the waves, but we body surfers were becoming part of the waves. There was no intermediary of wood or fiberglass between us and nature; when a wave would pick us up, we and the wave would become as one — at least until we reached the beach and were returned to being our former selves.

Now, I’ve never learned to surf with a board. I’m perfectly open to the possibility that there’s some awesome aspect to it that I simply don’t understand from that lack of experience. But body surfing offers such a strong connection with the wave that one rides that I’m not sure what that aspect would be. If there are any board surfers out there who would like to enlighten me, by all means, please do.

Yes, Jamaica, and no, it wasn’t a vacation

Charles Evans and I presented our paper on the use of open content in curriculum with implications for the developing world at Pan-Commonwealth Forum 4 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica from October 30 to November 2. It was really neat to meet so many people who knew what we were talking about, and who had similar interests. No one believed that a trip to Jamaica could possibly not be a vacation, but since the only time I was on the beach I was wearing a tie I think I can safely declare that it wasn’t. Of course, the resort where the conference was held was all inclusive, meaning five days of open bar goodness, but what was I supposed to do? Not take advantage of it?

Holiday in Chincoteague

“I wish I was born here. Chincoteague is the home of all pony lovers, and I am one!” — Fiona, age 7

So yesterday Adella, my Mom, all four bunnies, and I drove to
Chincoteague, a small town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore known for its
family friendly atmosphere, wild ponies, and annual oyster festival.
The kids like the simple beachy things to do — swim in the sea, play
mini golf, go for pony rides (nice and safe on supertame ponies in a
circle), and maybe even drive some go-karts.

Chinco is a lot less built up than many other east coast beaches. The
barrier island where there’s the beach is a national park, so all the
places to stay are on the island between that and the mainland. The
places to stay are still mostly little motels rather than big resorts,
and the places to have fun are still family owned and operated. Adella
said it reminds her of Anguilla in a strange way.

I say still because this is the first time I’ve been here in several
years (since my honeymoon with the older kids’ mother, yikes) and I can see how it’s changed a little. There are many more realty places, they’re building big, modern looking (i.e. hideous) condominium buildings, and there are just generally more people milling about. Still, it has a lot of that “well kept secret” feeling, and we’ll enjoy that while it lasts.