Sunday, May 22, 2011

An inspiration for teaching videos

As part of the application for the provost's award for Technology in Education I wrote a short narrative about finding academic technology no matter what I do. In the narrative I briefly recounted the live satellite-delivered graduate class I taught from the Software Engineering Institute at CMU (but didn't talk about a mistake I made with an algorithm live in class, whoops). But until recently I'd forgotten that during those record cold -20 degree F days in Shadyside I'd watch TLC back when TLC showed programs like James Burke's Connections and The Day the Universe Changed instead of, well, what it carries now.

Burke is famous for bringing history and science to the masses, but there are two shots that made him legend among "television people": the 300-something foot narrated continuous tracking shot, followed by the perfectly-timed launch. You can see the video here (it's only about two and a half minutes long).

More interesting, in Re-Connections Burke explains how they did the shots, and the flak he got about how they were "vulgar". The explanation is here. At 3:30 he talks about using humor to make learning interesting, and at 4:44 he explains the tracking shot, the launch shot, and the criticism he took from television people ("it must have been back projection") to the critics pooh-poohing the work.

You can watch everything online through the magic of YouTube.

Amazing guy, I was glad to see him when he spoke as part of the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall in 1995.

BTW, during one of the summers I was at KSC we went up on to the pad, and they never told us about this place. Amazing. Another good Burke video about the Apollo suit.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Here lies an agglomeration

With the end of the semester comes more time to think. Maybe. Here are a few things.

It's quite common to do a "What X can learn from Y" article. Here's one about what designers can learn from an HBO show featuring standup comedians (Louis CK, Ricky Gervai, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K.). The following part reminded me of the Dirty Jobs guy's take on labor:
... Chris Rock talks about what a pleasure it is to watch anyone do anything really well, even a great truck driver. "I just saw this guy park an 18-wheeler into this narrow space," he says. "And I said I guarantee you there's heart surgery that's not as hard as what this guy just did." Louis agreed. "I watched a guy pull into a loading dock, and I stopped and said, 'That was amazing.' And he was like, 'Yeah, I know, I know.'"
Just to tech this up a bit, the September 2005 issue of IEEE Computer contains "Presentation lessons from comedians" by Bob Colwell:
... the audience isn’t expecting much, so even modest improvements in your ability to make a presentation can elicit gasps of appre- ciation from your audience. The bar just isn’t all that high.
and Colwell even takes "a Tuftian digression".

Slate and the Guardian are going back and forth about whether punctuation belongs inside quotations or if quotations are literal ("logical punctuation"). If you've taken programming, you know the answer. Putting commas and periods (I mean, "full stops") inside quotations doesn't make sense :) Ben Yagoda in Slate:
Why has this convention become so popular? I offer two reasons, one small and one big. The small one is a byproduct of working with computers, and writing computer code. In these endeavors, one is often instructed to "input" a string of characters, and sometimes (in the printed instructions) the characters are enclosed in quotation marks. Sticking a period or comma in front of the closing quotation marks could clearly have bad consequences.

Many of you are familiar with the physics of baseball (Adair's book, or the website or the DamnInteresting article.). But what's the optimal route around the bases after you put one over the wall? Now you know.

But let's get serious for a moment. The Group of 8 industrialized nations issued a statement about water quality. You might remember the "Poop is funny, but fatal" UNICEF video.

Second, UCSB researchers found some surprising results about "localized" eating. I was reminded of it since after lunch we bought blueberries right out of the field. That's a story for another time -- California's increase in blueberry production. Back to the UCSB study,
The researchers found that more than 99 percent of the produce grown in Santa Barbara County is exported, and more than 95 percent of the produce consumed in the county is imported, some of it from as far away as Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand. The study also found that, surprisingly, if all produce consumed here was grown in the county, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions less than 1 percent of total agrifood system emissions, and it would not necessarily affect nutrition.

Third, a quality of life study was published by the American Human Development Project. With the exception of a few areas near Fresno State and "east Fresno" (does that mean Clovis? :) in the "Main Street California" category, the rest of the San Joaquin Valley is in the "Struggling California" or "Forsaken Five Percent" categories. The "Fact Sheets" are here.

Besides the grim news, there are some interesting statewide tidbits, like "foreign-born outlive the native-born by an average of four years in California" and "for every 100 men who get a bachelor's degree today, 134 women do", but we knew the latter just from college demographics now.

We need to end with something not so serious. Was the Rosewell incident really a crashed Soviet spy plane? Cue creepy music:
According to Annie Jacobsen, the reporter who authored "Area 51," the spaceship was actually a Soviet spy plane that came down during a storm. Jacobsen claims it was filled with bizarre, genetically engineered child-sized pilots in an attempt, by the Soviet Union's leader Joseph Stalin, to cause widespread panic in the U.S.
Jon Stewart does a good job with it :)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

You're like a Doug Henning of the GUI interface

The Stanford Human-Computer Interaction seminar (free to watch!) is one of my regular Internet stops. I haven't watched the whole talk yet (you might have to click back and forth on the Lectures and Course Topics tabs until you can access all the lectures), but Lecture 3 for this quarter (15 April 2011) is about magic. I was impressed by the speaker's baccalaureate degree in magic from Hampshire :)

The relationship between magic and interface design has been explored before, in fact I've talked about Tog's classic "Magic and Software Design" CHI conference paper before.