April 2009 Archives

Latin on YouTube

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Let it officially be noted that Latin has arrived on YouTube as well as Wicipedia Latina and no doubt somewhere on Latin Twitter.

As you might expect, there are plenty of options on YouTube including Pope Benedict XVI and Bella Stellae (aka Bella Stellārum) (cum Lucius Skywalker et Darth Vader) which translates the key confonrtation between Luke and his father as "Nōōōō...n".

If you prefer the classics, you can always catch the Latin grammar lesson from Life of Brian. You can also catch the latest Harvard Commencement Latin Salutatories and an ad for the Roman suburb Civitas Angeli (aka Los Angeles).

But the one that shows what most people think of Latin is the Qui Quad Quod rap - which is just the relative clause declension recited as a rap. Don't know what qui quae quod means? Neither do they. There's a reason why Latin is regarded as one of the great example of memorization with no meaning. For the record, only 1 person in 20 was able to correctly conjugate hic haec hoc in out Latin historical linguistics seminar.

Still I'm sort of touched that Latin can inspire this much devotion and silliness on the Web. At this point, cheesy Latin jokes are as long a tradition as reading Vergil.

Mod Book Review 1

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I just used the Mod Book (like a Tablet PC, but on a Mac) for a meeting, so I thought would write up a few notes before I forgot. Dave has been using his modbook as a sketchpad and has gotten some excellent results, but since I'm not an artist, I thought I would use it as an engineer might to take some notes and add sketches.

Sketch of Pause Button Icon

Today I took it to a Breeze meeting, and it works fine, but there were some gotchas.

Encryption and Keyboard

The modbook is encrypted with PGP, but PGP needs password input from a keyboard...so a keyboard I requested. My desktop keyboard is too bulky to travel. According to Chris Demcheck PGP requires a keyboard with a USB connection.

In some ways, this is a benefit in disguise because I like being able to switch between Typing (e.g. URLs, passwords) and other modes. However it means that I have to go through an extra step to activate the pen.

FYI - If you don't have a plugin keyboard and you do have an unencrypted Modbook, then you can use the Axiotronic virtual keyboard utility. It puts you in iPhone mode where you tap one letter at a time. Not bad, but it is nice for me to have the working keyboard too since I can type fairly quickly.

Unicode (Of Course)

There is standard Mac OS X Unicode support on the Mod Book. What this means is that if you activate the Greek keyboard then 1) any plugged in keyboard will function as it does on other Macs but 2) the Axiotronic keyboard actually SHOWS you the Greek letters. I'm tempted to see if I can install it on my main Mac as a main reference. I'm not sure how it handles Chinese and other complex scripts, but it's a great start.

The other issue is handwriting recognition. We know that English is possible, but according to InkBook the only other options are French and German (not even Spanish). It's still a young tech.


For note taking, I am using the Inbook app which the company advertises as "Perfect companion for your ModBook". It opens in a format similar to a looseleaf notebook. You can add tabs for pages or section (and color code). The file can be printed as a PDF or saved as text/RTF (I will have to play with that next week).

For note taking, something like InkBook can be useful if your notes are full of weird symbols. Since you are basically handwriting notes, you can write just about anything from graphs and equations to Old Norse runes. Preference wise, I found I liked the calligraphic pen over the regular pencil. I think it forced me to print more clearly, and a little larger.

Quirk wise, I did notice that there was some glare issues with the monitor. I dimmed the lights in 210B (dark on my side) so I could see the monitor. I also propped the modbook on my sweater so i could use the speaker phone and write at the same time.

In terms of workflow, I decided to save my notes as a PDF for this round. I don't have Inkbook installed on my main machine (although you can use it on a normal Mac as long as you also have a Wacom tabler), so the notes do need to be in a format they can use. But at least they're electronic now.

Some Screencaps

I bet you were wondering if I would post any! Here's a portion of my notes with a weird upside down triangle dot symbol (∵) for "because". As you can see my handwriting is not the best, but at least I can read it.

Abington 4 exams today because no exams final week

Caption: Notes are trying to convey that engineering students at Abington have 4 exams today (Friday before last week of class) so they can be squeezed before the final week of classes when exams are NOT supposed to happen.

And here's some Old Norse Runes. As you can see, you can change colors of your pens. The top is in the calligraphic pen, but the signature is the regular pencil

Runes are blue and English pronunciations are red

Hooray for danah boyd

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I have to say that one of the best keynote speakers I have seen in a while was danah boyd. I don't want to just gush in a blog, so just to elaborate, I respected the keynote because:

  1. We got some solid ethnographic research data (although condensed for keynote purposes).
  2. More importantly, she presented a balanced view of "change." Not as an oncoming Armageddon or the next Eden, but as something normal that happens to every culture (especially the culture likes to invent new technology).

With respect to the research point, I was surprised at how many of my assumptions following the e-grapevine weren't quite right. For instance, boyd notes that Facebook did not override MySpace, but rather that MySpace and Facebook co-exist, but are used by different socioeconomic groups.

The divide is not necessarily bad, but it is important to know that it is there when thinking about what "services" we (Penn State) provide through either platform, and what that means from a social point of view. For course work, boyd recommends a third-party "neutral" environment like ANGEL, the Blogs at Penn State or maybe Twitter.

I was also moved by how protective boyd is of her teenage subjects. A theme I seemed to hear is that despite the seeming technical prowess of modern teens in terms of Facebook, they are not techno-super heroes. She comments that they still have the same concerns, and the same fears, that we all had. The NetGen hypothesis (i.e. differently wired brains/expectations) is a common assumption, but in an extreme form, can make the next generation of college students sound a little bit like an alien species.

But boyd merely assumes they are still normal teens, with different communication devices. There will be differences, but probably nothing we can't handle.

P.S. The Swain Interview

The interview between Jeff Swain and danah boyd has been posted. Interestingly, danah boyd wonders if teens will abandon Facebook now that their parents are finding their high school buddies. They really do sound like typical teenagers.

New Accessbility and Web Standards Hub

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A new Web Standards hub has been established at http://webstandards.psu.edu which includes updated accessibility information - the URL http://accessibility.psu.edu will now point to this hub.

The Web Standards and Usability groups at Penn State will be reorganizing to publish information at this hub. For more information on Web Standards, please contact Christian Vinten-Johansen or contact the Webmaster at standardssupport@psu.edu.

Music and Gaming TLT Symposium

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The session I chaired was the music and gaming session "Blurring the Lines: Gaming as Preparation for Real Life," with Ann Clements, Tom Cody, Eric McKee from the School of Music. I admit I was motivated by the chance to see a demo of Guitar Hero, but the session actually touched on a lot of themes of NextGen issues, community building, authentic learning, and of course games.

The initial motivation was an observation that not music is (not always) learned in music class or band camp, but through Guitar Hero, DJing, remixing and playing with MIDI music. How can music educators capture the motivation of Guitar Hero and put it in the classroom?

The first part was an explanation of Guitar Hero. Although it looks like a toy guitar with colored buttons, Cody explained that the way it set up chords, melody and rhythm was very accurate. He was able to use the Guitar Hero notation on a music staff as is.

When you're in guitar hero though, I thought the visualization of a stream of incoming commands actually showed the structure of the rhythm and cords in some ways better than traditional notation. Already I could see that Guitar Hero would help you with (reading) traditional music (scores). I think it could help with basic fingering or other kinesthetic skills depending on the instrument. One student reported that Drum Kit did help with learning to play "real" percussion.

Guitar Hero was presented to a set of preservice music teachers, many of whom had succeeded in traditional music education. Interestingly, they were very skeptical of the value of Guitar Hero, but fortunately playing is believing.

In fact, many students reported that they felt Guitar Hero (as well as the Rock Band suite with multiple instruments) was a good tool for teaching improvisation. Not only can you "play" a band, but you can pre-program other instruments and improvise on the real instrument. In addition, Rock Band has a "studio" portion in which you can program custom tracks and play with melody, chords, rhythm and so forth for each instrument. You can experiment with different effects relatively quickly.

A final benefit was how the game changed the course dynamics. In the beginning, the atmosphere was very formal with students feeling competitive, but the band atmosphere of the game allowed the students to take charge and develop a "jam session" groove valued by many musicians.

As with all technology, there were kinks including dialup speeds for uploading modules. But this is one gaming technology that really shows how learning can be fun and educational.

An Accessibility Presentation & 2 Wacky Links

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A Presentation

On April 20, Elizabeth and Christian Vinten-Johansen will give a presentation about accessibility and technology for the Online Issues Forum (co-sponsored by World Campus and the University Libraries). Other presenters will include Bill Welsh (Office of Disability Services), Mary Ramsey (Classroom & Lab Computing) and Susan Hayya (University Libraries) This will be recorded on Media Site Live.

You can download our PowerPoint slides if you want a preview. - AccessOIF0409Final.ppt

And Two Wacky Accessibility Links

And here are the two educational, but not-quite-so-deadly-serious accessibility links.

When Accessibility and Linguistics Collide

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A fairly old accessibility recommendation is that you insert a tag to indicate a language change. For instance, if I were to write a Welsh sentence Hanner paint o gwrw os gwelwch yn dda (or 'Half a pint of beer please'), it would be tagged something like the code below.

Sample Lang Tag

<cite lang ="cy">Hanner paint o gwrw os gwelwch yn dda</cite>

Note that this assumes that you've included a <html lang="en-us">' tag in your code...which many systems do these days!

But someone asked an interesting question - do pop culture phrases like ¡Hasta la vista....baby! have to be tagged as "Spanish". Hmm. This isn't really an accessibility question so much as a linguistics question, which is when does a word stop being a "borrowing" and become part of the English language? It actually does happen in stages. We all realize that taco, señor, jalapeño are Spanish words but so are lasso, canyon, rodeo

not to mention Arizona, Colorado.

But we don't realize that lasso (cognate with lace from French) is Spanish partly because we have "nativized" the pronunciation (there is no "short a" in Spanish). The more recent borrowings tend to resemble Spanish a little bit more.

Is it in the Dictionary Yet?

In theory, one reason to tag a switch in language is to switch pronunciation dictionaries. Clearly this would be ridiculous for "lasso" (or "lahso" in Spanish), and might be overkill for "taco" which does have an entry in the English dictionary (I mean the official ones published used as reference materials)...and therefore is likely to be in the screen reader list of words.

Unfortunately, I don't think Hasta la vista is in the official dictionary...partly because dictionaries generally don't include phrases. The only word that will be in the English dictionary is "vista", but with its own English pronunciation which is different from Spanish. But since the English word "baby" has now intruded, you can have embedded LANG tags as in:

<cite lang="es">¡Hasta la vista....<span lang="en">baby!</span></cite>

Isn't compliance fun?

In Practice

But let's go on a cynical sidetrip here and ask...if you tag it will the tool recognize it? Screen readers...sort of...if you want it too (and know how to enable automatic language detection). Some search engines may have a better record (or they may relying on ISP). The most "robust" use is in the Word spell checker. If you have an extended text in Spanish, every word will be marked as a spelling/grammatical error until you "mark" the text as Spanish (so that Microsoft can switch checkers.) It's under the Tools » Language » Set Language menu (except for Office 2007 where it's under the Review tab.

Muy bien, but...which languages really count? We all have access to a Spanish and French spelling dictionary/pronunciation files (and German, Dutch, Italian....), but what about Welsh and Basque? There may dictionaries, but they do not come standard. You have to hunt these out and install them. Still at least they exist.

However, there are those languages without any dictionaries (the ones with about 10,000 speakers or less). Then the tagging here is really just metadata, but is it good metadata? From a linguistic point of view, the standard language codes are not very useful for detailed linguistic description.

The ISO-639 codes normally really NOT language codes in a linguistic sense, but just codes correlating to a spelling system. It matters whether it is "en-US" (USA) or "en-GB" (Britain) because the two countries spell differently (and we do have minor gramattical differences). The distinction between "en-US" (USA) and "en-PR" (English spelling in Puerto Rico) is technically there, but in practice non-existent. Most English writing in Puerto Rico is probably aimed at the U.S. standard.

As the last example shows, the original method of specifying codes just by country has some problems. Fortunately, the standards groups are working on it. Still the new codes, which may be better, are rarely recognized by the vendors (or at least there is a MAJOR timelag).

So what are we tagging and does it matter? For "major languages" yes it does matter. For lots of other uses...probably not. I could tag (and often I do), but at the end of the day, it's the visible text identifying the language/dialect that matters the most.

Headphones...On a Phone

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This week I tested a piece of equipment I've been curious about...headphones which plug in to my phone. I tested it when I used the phone to call in to Monday's NMC Adobe Monday's meeting. It was very easy - plug in the jack (which looks like a phone jack), activate the "headphone" setting and dial away.

It's the 4th set I own (in addition to the ones on my speakers, the one on my iPod and the one to Breeze)...but I'm really glad I asked for them.

Since I was on a telephone, the sound was very good, and I didn't have to reserve a conference room. This can save space for those webinars only I will be attending or ones where I can't make the central conference room because of back to back meetings. The one thing I missed was the back chatter with my colleagues, although I did run into someone away from UP in the regular chat room (small world some days).

The classic use for the headphone is to free the hands and prevent neck creak. They could be handy for long phone consultations. I have fond memories of sales managers pacing the halls with phone headsets. It probably saved the life of a difficult customer.

I know our Cisco phones vary in features, but if yours has the "Headset" button or a headset jack in the back, then it could be an option.

Teaching at the Primate Level

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I've been seriously distracted by this WGBH/PBS NOVA interview with primatologist Rebecca Saxe, but it was so fascinating.

I've watched enough chimp documentaries to know that they actually do use tools (like a stick to pick up a horde of termites, apparently a major chimpanzee delicacy). Saxe notes though that apparently chimps and our other primate cousins are really not very good teachers.

She then goes on to explain the cognitive process of both learning (student) and instruction (teacher) as well as noting that cultural development also requires innovation. First you learn to make chili, you think to tweak with some extra oregano and cumin, and then you teach it to someone else.

But the trick to teaching, according to Saxe, is for the instructor to be able to reflect on what he or she is doing. As we all know, that is much easier said than done. Saxe then discusses what she calls the "magic triangle" - social/cognitive coordination between instructor, learner and "object" (maybe even an abstract object). The first evidence in children, she says, is when a child points out something to show their parents, something chimps don't do.

Maybe you've heard all of this before, but have you heard in comparison to what chimps aren't doing? What a great twist on the old innateness debate. Our ability to learn may be innate, but what we learn is still all environment.

If nothing else, it's a great introduction to many aspects of learning theory in a way any "chimp" can relate to.

Researching the U.S. Presidents

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At a recent ID meeting, I commented that in high school I had to research information on each and every president in the United States (in batches of 6 throughout the year) Despite the active learning spirit of the exercise (I had to look up the information), I actually felt that I remembered very little (other than my mother commenting that Lincoln was able to enact the Land Grant School system in the middle of the Civil War).

Although I think learning factoids in context is important, this exercise swung too far. We had to bundle dates of administration, names of vice-presidents, list of critical event in the era (even if it was 1836-1840) and a list of presidential highlights. It was worse because I was not in a position to easily access an encyclopedia at 11PM the night before (imagine how Wikipedia impacts this assignment now).

I finally saw a piece on the History Channel, called American Presidents, which added the missing piece - the historical context. Each president got about 10 minutes at the most (except for LIncoln), but the experts were able to spin out a good narrative. I have to say I have a new appreciation the Missouri Compromise and how badly Andrew Jackson messed up our banking infrastructure. You can also see the University of Virginia American President Online Resource which has essays for each president (again why couldn't have I had this in high school?).

So now that I'm an instructional designer, how would I approach learning the presidents? First, I would let the students use something like the UVA Website (or maybe Wikipedia) as a resource. It would make a great study guide.

I think I would keep the research aspect also, but lessen the amount of factoids crammed in. How? I would assign only one president from each era to a student instead of every president. A student would only research maybe five presidents throughout the year, but know each one a little bit more.

And instead of compiling just the facts, I would ask for a review of online and maybe a few print sources. Bibliographies could be shared. And maybe some debates could occur - such as worst president ever (hint: most candidates were from just before the Civil War) or how viewpoints change over time. Maybe students could address why presidents from certain eras seem more "forgettable" than from other eras.

I do think knowing your president's and their impact is important for understanding the social and political history of the U.S. But even I have to admit that facts alone don't convey the history. The purpose of knowing dates and facts isn't to win a trivia contest, but to provide important details to the narrative of our past.

For instance the fact that over 50% of U.S. exports were of cotton in 1840 isn't just a fact, but probably the reason why few Northern politicians were abolitionists.