Life is a Mystery

27 August 2008 . Comments Off on Dymaxion Map

Dymaxion Map

Ever since I saw it as a kid, Buckminster Fuller’s dymaxion map (the Fuller Projection) made more sense to me than any other map of the world. We have had a wonderful print of the dymaxion map framed and slowly fading on our wall for decades.


You can buy copies or play with this new online puzzle version.

29 June 2008 . Comments Off on Chinglish


We like to laugh at malformed English around the world, but what if the last laugh is on us? Andrew points to an article at Wired which describes how English is recombining with other languages, particularly asian languages, to form a new global tongue.

Any language is constantly evolving, so it’s not surprising that English, transplanted to new soil, is bearing unusual fruit. Nor is it unique that a language, spread so far from its homelands, would begin to fracture. The obvious comparison is to Latin, which broke into mutually distinct languages over hundreds of years — French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian. A less familiar example is Arabic: The speakers of its myriad dialects are connected through the written language of the Koran and, more recently, through the homogenized Arabic of Al Jazeera. But what’s happening to English may be its own thing: It’s mingling with so many more local languages than Latin ever did, that it’s on a path toward a global tongue — what’s coming to be known as Panglish. Soon, when Americans travel abroad, one of the languages they’ll have to learn may be their own.

26 May 2008 . Comments Off on Dissolving plastic

Dissolving plastic

Daniel Burd, a high school student in Canada, comes up with a way to biodegrade plastic bags in just months. I wonder what “a bit of carbon dioxide” waste means, though. Still, quite an accomplishment!

17 April 2008 . Comments Off on The art of document analysis

The art of document analysis

Thanks to Peter for a pointer to the Neoformix site. It is full of wonderful experiments in illuminating data, especially written word, though informative visualizations. Really cool stuff, some of it created by the author, other examples gathered from around the world. Here is one example, a “document contrast diagram” for Clinton and Obama’s Super Tuesday remarks.


Update: Infosthetics may also be worth keeping an eye on.

9 April 2008 . Comments Off on Vectors Gallery

Vectors Gallery

Closing out CNI yesterday, Tara McPherson described the founding, mission, and outcomes of the journal Vectors based at USC. She sees Vectors as an expression of “multimodal humanities,” a new way of using technology to allow humanities scholars to reach past the surface of screen, manipulating the data of their argument into engaging presentations that have as much in common with the video game as they do with the traditional journal article. Vectors strives to publish only what could not possibly be published in print.

From the first screen it draws the reader into unaccustomed involvement with the “text”. Take some time for a of the gallery of articles at Vector.

A few to check out: Public Secrets shares the voices of incarcerated women and those around them, WiFi.Bedouin suggests you insert wireless signals into unexpected places, and The Stolen Time Archive immerses you in an archive of text worker artifacts.

26 March 2008 . Comments Off on Head first

Head first

I love O’Reilly on all kinds of levels.

First, I found as a budding technologist that their books are among the best reference books out there. No nonsense, no condescension. Just information clearly presented by people who know what they are writing about. See the perl bookshelf for an example.

Second, the publisher is a gem who works hard for open access and tries to work with his readers rather than suspect them of wrong doing.

Third, O’Reilly created a really fun magazine called Make (now joined by Craft).

And now, fourth, I discover that they have created a whole series of “head first” books that are instructive, not just reference. I spent six months teaching Alex javascript while we were in Austria and Head Start Javascript would have been the perfect companion. These books are designed for the smart person who wants to sit down and devotes some structured time to learning. While filled with humor, they still require hard work and the completion of excersizes. These are a lot like a book I used thirty (!) years ago to teach myself BASIC.

For the last year I’ve been teaching myself XHTML and CSS. Too bad I didn’t know about Head First HTML.

3 March 2008 . Comments Off on No teacher left behind

No teacher left behind

I had an interesting conversation with Geri, one of the teachers my son had the pleasure of working with when he was younger. Nathaniel is at a wonderful school with a year round program and multiage classrooms. Now they are thinking about moving away from the multiage classroom. Geri told me that one of the reasons for this is that they just can’t cover the state-mandated curriculum for two grades in a single classroom and give the kids fair attention.

I spent part of my grade-school education in a program called “Major Work” that was part of the Cleveland Public Schools in the 1970’s. Our Major Work classrooms were multiage (Grades 3/4, 4/5, 5/6, and the like). I loved being exposed to things the next grade was working on and having a chance to work on skills (like spelling) without the stigma of having to go to a lower-grade classroom for that brush-up. That we are crushing initiatives like this with strict “No Child Left Behind” mandates is terrible. Where is the room for teacher creativity and a child’s own pace in this system?

As I’ve thought about I’ve wondered if we have not been pursuing the wrong end of the stick. Instead of no child left behind, maybe we should be pursuing no teacher left behind. I believe that if we fill our classrooms with wonderful and creative teachers who know their stuff, the kids can’t help but learn. We don’t need to hold the kids to strict curriculum standards, we need to give teachers the tools, salary, and respect they need to become excellent at what they do.

Then, today, I came across this video from last week on the campaign trail. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for sharing this.)

First of all, Obama is saying many of the right things about NCLB and the way it fails kids. He does not quite discard it as fully as I would like, but then even Michael Bennet told me there were some valuable results to be found from NCLB. Maybe I’d toss the baby with the bathwater.

But keep watching: about three minutes in Obama has a “one last thing” moment that is as great as any I’ve seen Steve Jobs give. One last thing: parents have to parent. This gave me a whole new perspective on my “no teacher left behind” notion. Do parents too often leave teachers holding the bag that families should hold? What if all parents did the work Obama asks them to do in this video? How many leaders in our country are willing to ask us all to do the very hard work that Obama asks us to do in this bit of extemporaneous revival?

And note the crowd’s reaction. They were supportive when Obama took on NCLB. But they become ecstatic when he asks them all to do some work to serve our children. This is another call to service. As parents we cannot leave our teachers behind, we have to support our kids and the work that teachers are trying to do in our schools.

Getting rid of NCLB, IMHO, would also help!

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /