Archive for April, 2010

Net Triangulation demonstrations banjaxed

April 30, 2010

One of the approaches to net-usage that sounds easy is “triangulation”  in hunting out info on a topic where one is ignorant.

The trouble is, surveying by line-of-sight in a valley doesn’t give one any idea of the lay of the land in the wider world.  Surveying from Mt Everest won’t tell you much about Australia, either.  Metaphorically speaking.  So, kids have to learn to choose their triangulation points.

That’s where the apprenticeship side of it comes in.

So there you are, having pre-tested a search to be sure the class falls into the “useful learning” trap, or finds the great website –

and some (expletive deleted) programmer has set up a “helpful” heuristic prog, so your students’ machines get different results ….

So, now we need a guaranteed “blank slate” search engine.   What are the odds you’ll have to pay for access …

Getting the horse to drink : how to encourage efficient search behaviour

April 28, 2010

In Theory

Physicist James Clarage (3 April 2010, New Scientist,  p 20-21) crunched the numbers for Google’s data centre servers, and estimated that Google uses an average of 100 watt/hours per search – the same as turning on a 100-watt globe for an hour.

In Practice

This was on my mind as I watched a bright teenager use Google to search for specific information.  I selected an intersecting set of terms, in a different order, searched within results, and chose to investigate different items from the results list.  I found a fitting item in about half the time the teenager had taken to find a related but not sufficient item.

What were the key differences in our approaches?  How had I come to be able to do this, when I use the system much less?  How can I teach this skill?

Well, it’s not intelligence:  this teenager is seriously gifted.  And I suspect it’s not basic analytic training: ve* has had “learning opportunities” for all the steps I take.  I think it is a combination of practice and motivation.

My practice came from pre-web studies (efficient use of Dewey filing and of published collections of abstracts, with manual note taking), where my motivation to use my analytic skills was to save time and avoid writing.

It’s not just in selecting the search terms to match probable data nodes: it includes applying the search purpose in the examination of the results.  I know the mind-feel of it: I have several brain sub-systems, each seeking different things from the material I read, and higher systems adding positive or negative markers given these sub-system results.  Still higher sub-systems weigh the markers, and list those to remove, duplicates, and those to investigate.  The full conscious attention may read two pages of results before going back half-way down the first page to check one link.

I have vague memories of taking notes in Undergraduate searches, doing the sub-routines consciously.  Now, the sub-systems do it, and it takes a strange mental twist for me to catch them at it.

What can we do?

Children and young adults may feel they “have too much to do”, yet the online environment destroys the sense of urgency.   Also,   cut-and-paste note taking removes the aching fingers which motivated copying only central information.  What will motivate students to explore ways of thinking about the probable patterns of results from particular terms and the order in which they are used – or not used?  What will motivate them to exclude common but irrelevant areas from the result, and to seek patterns within the results to investigate fewer (but more useful) elements of the apparently relevant results?

That is where the idea of Google’s electricity bill comes in:  a great deal of effort has gone into developing the “reduce. reuse, recycle” mindset for children.  So, apply it to teaching computer use:


Consider the global data patterns, and reduce the number of searches by careful selection of terms – keep a log of the number of searches and the useful results per page of each search.  Look at the patterns of useful searches, and try to figure out what made the difference.

Find patterns within the results, and use “search within search results” to winnow for useful data

Reuse: Save rich search results for re-examination – especially if they relate to a central area of study.

Recycle: Where “related searches” are listed, check for what you want to know (not just the terms you thought of) and for useful ideas.

Every time we send a command down the tubes, we burn electricity and shorten the life of circuits.  How many commands did you waste today?

*sentient neuter (he, she, ve, it;  his, her, ves, its; him, her, ver, it).

Just for the fun of it.

April 21, 2010

I really like the way this man talks. This is a slow-speaking clip. For him.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "The Escapist : Video Galleries : Zero…", posted with vodpod

Masterclasses in vodcasting

April 21, 2010

I like the way many craft teachers show a completed article, show its use, show the needed skill at full speed, then break down the skill into small, slow-motion steps.  We do something similar in teaching literacy:  read to pre-verbal children as well as to primary classes;  introduce very well written texts and use them in class exercises (well, yes, I have seen terrible trash used in class exercises …);  while the students are learning the basics write for the class then write with the class.  Very Vygotsky.

So why do so many teachers talk as though they go straight to making podcasts and vodcasts?  I expect that they have used internet resources with the students, and used offline resources in similar ways.  I am not so sure that they have explicitly analysed for (or with) their students the good and bad points of these resources as products, or examined the mechanics of making them.

This may lead to a division in understandings: between those whose families discuss the techniques used in multimedia, who watch “The Chaser” (link to their video “say no to ads”)and “Hungry Beast” (link to their video report on google) and time-shift them (record or iView) for their kids to see – and those who just watch.  I wonder whether one could get permission to make an “extracts “ DVD, for school use, of the Chaser’s series on the film techniques of current affairs programmes?  Maybe they have / can make one – well, I’ve emailed them to ask, since it’s not listed in their DVD list.

2 Chat archives too good to miss

April 9, 2010

(Warning: strong language, adult concepts)

I post these images (I apologise for the memory size – they are chat screen archives) to demonstrate the amazing qualities of chatrooms where our students may go (even if they have to lie about their ages).  I have not put links to the archive as it is reported to be :  a marvellous,  fascinating, and sometimes useful place;  4chan,  bikers’ pubs,  hookworms and rottweilers are marvellous, fascinating, and sometimes useful – but should be handled with caution.

The first is humanity in action: a noob (see urban dictionary) follows instructions precisely – and provides an abject object lesson in the need to doublecheck.   Some of the participants suspect that he is playing a mind-game, but we do not know.  Immortal.

The second is chatroom as an art-form: events which take place in separate threads only make sense in the omniscient view.  Someone had multiple threads open, and chose to capture the work.

Humanity is marvellous, fascinating, and sometimes useful …

Item 1

said to have come from

Why to check with experts outside the chatroom.

Item 2

imagine what the individual threads saw.  Said to be from


Collective intelligence errorlog

April 1, 2010

I said to someone that Paul Kelly was with Redgum.  Temproary brain death, sorry, that was Schumann.   Thanks to Wikipedia, assuming it’s right,   Paul Kelly’s links are

Paul Kelly and the Dots
Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls
Paul Kelly and the Messengers
Paul Kelly and the Stormwater Boys
Uncle Bill
Professor Ratbaggy
Paul Kelly and the Boon Companions
Stardust Five
See Website

What do chat-rooms do about trolls?

April 1, 2010

Experienced users feel we oughtn’t feed the trolls, but sometimes, really, they go too far.  This is one of many “Obvious Troll” responses for minimal involvement without acceptance.

used in forum as response to heavy nasty responses to posts

However, I stand by my more detailed position in Reflection on “The world is an internet forum.” :  sometimes a more detailed and courteous response is needed, particularly if the apparent troll may feel ve is protecting a victim of bullying.