Discover Your Inner Geek!


La Grande Finale

Here it is… La Grande Finale!

It’s been fun! Thanks again to Cheryl for putting this all together and to all of you for the stimulating discussions!  Here’s to the geeks!

josh.


UPDATE :: La Grande Finale

I have finished La Grande Finale – the last of my reflections for the Geek in Training course.  I gave our Geek in Residence a sneak peak at the product of my labours yesterday afternoon and we have decided to keep it a surprise until graduation.  I am so excited to show you all what this course has inspired me to create!

(No worries, La Grande Finale will be posted to the blog on Monday so that you can take a look if you missed its premier.)

josh.


Mashup and M*A*S*H

My first encounter with mashups was with music. My favourite is The Verve vs. Jay-Z – Brush Your Bittersweet Shoulders Off, which can be found at http://www.al-b3.com/mashups.htm. These types of mashups seem to get into all kinds of trouble because of copyright issues, which is a shame, because the good ones are pretty cool.

I just did a little search on mapping mashups, and of course the big one now is the one that tracks the swine flu. One of my favourite mapping tools is Map My Run, which allows you to plot out running routes, see the elevations of those routes, log your times, track your training and even figure out how many calories you burned!

Surfing around the net, I realized that the term can refer to anything that uses two more things to create one thing. So this goes wayyy beyond maps. Through the mashup feed link, I discovered Glue, which allows you to share your surfing habits with your friends and see what your friends have viewed, liked, and reviewed online. It’s a mashup of amazon, wikipedia, youtube and a whole bunch of other sites. It’s not for me, but it’s a great example of how far you can take mashups, and how much is actually out there.

It’s crazy. I have seen so many new social media products, I don’t know how to keep track of them. Of course, that’s the point. They’re media, plural, and they offer a lot of choice.

It would be easy to reject all of this – blogging, Second Life, twitter – who really uses these things anyway? But I think it’s really important to keep in mind that these represent more than just a bunch of new tools. Social media are reflective of a whole new attitude towards communication. I grew up in the TV age, when your choices were print or broadcast. “Professionals” somewhere out there produced the content, you waited for it, and consumed it. We worried about how TV was “dumbing down” the public discourse. Print was better, because it required more thought. But the truth is, both print and broadcast were passive media for the audience. Even the early web was just a clickable version of print. The rise of sites like Facebook shows that people have a new attitude towards media – they expect to co-create their experience. Isn’t that a good thing?

There is still room for those “traditional” media (I still laugh a little when I think of TV as traditional), but I think we have to keep abreast of how we communicate with each other, how students communicate with us and with each other, and what the best communication practices will be, given the expectation of co-creation.

Social media may not be “where the kids are”, at least right now. But it’s our responsibility to try as best we can to understand the change in communication we are experiencing, to participate in them, and to empower students to make use of them in transformative ways.

 

– Chris G

Bonus: ever since I started thinking about mashups, I couldn’t get the the old 70s show out of my head:


Podcast catchup post.

I love radio, and I wake up to it every morning. I listen to it in the car. I play it while I’m doing other stuff. I have listened to podcasts from the CBC, the National Post and the Toronto Star.

I used to also, once in a while, listen to The Ongoing History of New Music on podcast, because I could never remember when it was on the radio. It seems, though, that copyright issues have made it illegal to podcast all the music that is played on the show, so you can only get transcripts, which are infuriating to read because they’re not formatted! So this is interesting, when you have a show about music and can’t play the music you’re talking about. As the host says, the law needs to catch up to the capabilities of the internet.

In the meantime, I’m still ambivalent about the usefulness of podcasts. First, you have to find them, which can be hard. Second, you have to take the time to listen to them. Third, I don’t get videopodcasting at all – what’s the difference between that and YouTube? Why would you bother?

But – I know there are people who are auditory learners, who can benefit from listening rather than watching or reading. I know that if you missed a lecture, it can be very valuable to have the entire thing available online. So I think it has a place. I think they have to be short, though, and the important information has to be near the beginning for those with short attention spans.

 

Chris G


Belated Thoughts, Volume 4: Wikis

My apologies folks, but I seem to have fallen into old habits again.  However, I have resolved to get back on track and bring myself back up-to-date (again).  That said, let us recall the topic of wikis (yea, nostalgia)…

If you had asked me a few months ago for my thoughts on wikis, I would have said that Wikipedia is great and that’d be about the sum of it.  I didn’t think of wikis as a collaborative tool beyond the limited role I had assigned them.  Sorry wikis, I didn’t mean to put you in such a small box.

Of course, now I have a better appreciation for the oddly-named development tool.  I see their potential for online collaboration (and group story-telling).  What I find most interesting is that they have this informal feeling about them – they often have limited design, most look unpolished, anyone can use them – they kind of remind me of a workshop with scraps on the floor.  Perhaps this is what makes them an even better collaborative tool – they are unassuming, welcoming, and require little orientation besides a quick video introduction.  Well, that, and they have a cool name…


Wiki-riffic

I am a fan of wikis, and I absolutely see the value of them for project management and for developing bases of knowledge.

Two points:

1. In spite of my first sentence, I don’t feel I’ve ever successfully participated in a wiki. I think it’s really important that we be sure to use this tool appropriately. Often we add a tool to the mix because we can see what it could do, but then when we actually try to use it, it doesn’t work out. It either doesn’t get used or gets used reluctantly. The tool should be central to the job at hand, and not some extra piece of work that makes people feel as if it’s an added chore.

2. Wikipedia is awesome. I love reading about all the Chicken Littles who think that it’s the end of the world that students are reading Wikipedia, because of its “unreliable” information. This usually comes from academia, which throughout history has always been such a reliable source of knowledge. Wikipedia challenges the very nature of what knowledge is, by suggesting that people as a whole can develop shared knowledge without the mediation of so-called “expertise”. This week, I came across this article in which a composition professor actually requires his students to contribute to Wikipedia. What a great idea! An opportunity to both participate in and critically analyze what it means to be participating in social media.

– Chris G


Tag this

Okay, I know I’m late on this, but here are my thoughts on tags. My main thought about tags is more of a question than a comment: How do we know what tags to use? Since there’s no standard, and I guess that’s the point, we could be using tags that people may use to search for something completely different. Perhaps what we’re doing is making ourselves searchable to people whom we may never have expected to reach. Are there any rules for good tagging?

Also, I put the UpbeaT blog through TagCrowd and here’s what I got:

created at TagCrowd.com

Seems it’s not working in cloud format, but a couple of things stood out to me. Clearly, our bloggers are using the word “really” too much! But where the heck did “ve” come from?

 

– Chris G


Not-So-Belated Thoughts, Volume 3: Tags

Alright, that was fun.  I took my résumé and plunked it into TagCrowd (after removing the dates since things like “oct. 2008” are not interesting) and the results were interesting.  Judging by the size, I could easily tell that I gained a lot of experience as a student at the University of Guelph in Ontario.  True.  However, what was more interesting was to see were words like “community”, “management”, “provided”, “support”, and “team” displayed very prominently.  Although I am obviously the author of my résumé, it is a strange thing to see these themes appear visually – stranger still that I am not sure it was entirely intentional.

Due to the sad blue colours in TagCrowd, I then put my resume in Wordle, played it it for a bit, and smiled a little more.  Colour is good.

Now, on the topic of the wisdom of crowds, I am about 82% in favour of such wisdom.  First, the 18% rant.  Although more about tagging than crowds, this rant comes as a result of too much time looking for stock images on various websites, like stock.xchng.  What some people think makes sense is lost on others.  For example, if I am looking for a photo of a “glass of water” and the perfect image has been tagged as a “cup of refreshingness”, there is very little chance I will ever find it (unless I use special tools).  The same (albeit not as ridiculous) can be said about crowds (good segway).  Say some university staff-types decide that they were going to offer a very useful workshop on “engaging the university community”, but the students looking for information keep searching for “campus involvement” – there’s going to be a disconnect between the two dissimilar crowds and their respective folksonomies.

My rant was not meant to cast a doom and gloom cloud over tags (that would be the worst kind of tag cloud) – I actually find them quite delightful.  To return to my previous example, if you have one person who tags “cup of refreshingness” and ninety-nine who tag “glass of water”, the crowd has made up for the individual’s eccentricities and I will have found my perfect image.  Often times, common sense is not that common in one, but is common in the greater commons (future famous quote, patent pending).  Seriously though, if you allow a community to create and use its own language rather than trying to artificially impose a language upon that community, I think that community is more apt to success and flourish.  Otherwise, trying to impose language on the crowd may be doubleplusungood.

josh.

P.S.  I have tagged this post as “refreshingness”, should you wish to find it later.

P.P.S.  I’m up-to-date again.  Yea!


Less Belated Thoughts, Volume 2: RSS

Today I opened a Google Reader account (or, more aptly put, added Google Reader to my ever-expanding array of Google products) and started adding RSS feeds.  I came to realize that I have a lot of RSS feeds that I would like to keep up-to-date with.  As a matter of fact, after four or five subscriptions I had to put my additions to GR (do you mind if I call you GR?) on the back-burner in order to write this blog entry and get back to work.  I have a number to add when I get home, mostly personal – friends and colleagues who jumped on the bandwagon long before me (I’m still chasing after it – but I’m almost there – soon I can be added too!).

Information overload is something I definitely fight with on a regular basis.  The coming days will be an experiment – will GR help me to make my life easier or cause me to run for cover?  I know that I have a tendency to become irritated when things are left unattended – unread – unloved.  I know full well that I will not read a barrage of RSS feeds, but will I be able to mark them as read knowing that they have gone unloved and without attention being paid to them?  I think there’s a good chance if I know it’s saving me from having to go from website to website – something I mean to do currently, but cannot find the time to do.

The one thing, the most important, thing about RSS feeds is the ability to customize the information you receive.  I would love to see a way for a part-time undergraduate Arts student in her final year who is also the President of the Rocketeering Club to have ONE place to go to read information on convocation, APUS event dates, course deadlines, and keep in touch with fellow rocket enthusiasts.  We have come a long way with initiatives like Ulife and the Arts & Science Student e-news, but we still have a long way to go,  Today’s online experience is all about customization and customization is a lot of work – but we’ll get there…

josh.


Belated Thoughts, Volume 1: Images

Despite my best efforts, life has seen it fit to prevent me from contributing to the discussions with my fellow geeks-in-training.  However, through a series of belated thoughts (I’m a couple of weeks behind), I hope to share a few of my reflections on past topics.  That being said, let’s think back to images…

Golden Ears Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

Images have power – they make us laugh, they make us cry, they make us remember.  The latter is what hit me most when I was rummaging through Flickr for this post.  I was thinking of sustainability and the endless war between urban and rural when I was directing my search but, in doing so, came across a personal memory captured through the lens of another.  The image I have included is by Michael Stahl (optimieron) whose hometown is here, in Toronto.  However, the image is of Golden Creek in Golden Ears Provincial Park which is an hour’s drive from my childhood home in Coquitlam, BC.  I have walked though the cedar-scented trails to this pebbled beach, I have skipped these stones across this creek, I grew up in places like this.  It has been many years since I thought about Golden Ears and the good times I had there as a kid and it is strange that a single image has the power to bring it all back in an instant.  What is even stranger is that this memory has been revived by chance by someone I have never met.  The internet is, indeed, a mysterious place.

However, regarding the topic I had originally intended to write about, this image will still serve its intended purpose.  This space is one of calm, peace, and serenity.  Although it less than 20km from Maple Ridge and just over 60km from Vancouver’s core, you cannot feel the urban vibe of the city here.  The area surrounding the park and the majority of the Fraser Valley to the east of this point are used as farm land.  Nourished by the Fraser River and protected by the Costal Mountain Range, the Fraser Valley is rich arable land.  The question this image asks is for how long?  What sustainability issues face the Lower Mainland?  Images have power – they remind us of the past, they show us the future, they stimulate discussion of the future.

That being said, I think my camera and I will have to make the trek out to Golden Ears during my next trip out west…

josh.