18 New Planets Just Showed Up

As engineers work to design better telescopes, both earth- and space-based, another kind of astronomy is taking place and teaching us astonishing things about our galaxy. Even though the Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel 8 months ago, the 1.38 terabytes of data (my calculation) that it generated is still being examined — by a new breed of astronomer who writes code at a computer, instead of watching the sky through lens.

They are developing smarter algorithms to scan all that data to identify objects and phenomena that were previously hidden in the digital noise. René Heller, of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, and his colleagues recently uncovered 18 new planets. All of them are small, with the largest being just a bit wider than two Earths. One of the worlds is among the tiniest Kepler has yet found; it’s just 70 percent of Earth’s width. Another orbits in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star, where the temperature might allow liquid water to remain on its surface. 

The 18 newly discovered planets, seen in this illustration in orange and green, are all smaller than Neptune, with three even smaller than Earth. The green planet, dubbed EPIC 201238110.02, is the only one in the new haul that might be friendly to life.

Anna Alfonso has written a good description of data astronomy (The State of Data in Astronomy) in her blog, data iku.

There are now 3,972 confirmed exoplanets, worlds that are orbiting other stars, according to NASA’s Exoplanet Archive.

Initial Source: https://on.natgeo.com/2IlA7Xv

Website Excavations 1

I’ve been working on some web building that, if successful, I’ll share later. But part of the process has been conducting some excavation or digital archeology. I’ve been mining through my original Landmarks for Schools website, looking for old files that, when updated, were merely renamed instead of replaced or deleted. These reveal images of what the pages looked like 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

About “Landmarks for Schools”

With special chisels and brushes and even some dental tools, I’ve been thrilled to see those old pages again. Today, I want to share, with any of you web nerds and code geeks, the about page of Landmarks for Schools. Here is an image and here is a link to the page where you can load it into your browser and read it.

Computing: 1980 Style

Click to visit the book’s web site.

I saw my first personal computer in 1981. At that time, the closest you could come to a computer store (where I lived) was a back corner of the local Radio Shack store. There you found models of their TRS-80 computers, offering all manner of unimagined possibilities – but almost no software. Ready to buy and load (via audio cassettes) were a basic word processor (Scriptsit), a spreadsheet program (Visicalc) and a handful of games, including Galxian, Asteroids, Targ and Zork.

Dot-Matrix Print

But we didn’t buy computers because we wanted to play games or even to word process. Have you ever seen the print from the early dot-matrix printers? We bought computers because we wanted to learn about this new thing that was “going to change everything.”

Early Computing Magazine

Unsurprisingly, we had to go to print in order to learn and a few early magazines was the bast place to go. Even then, the gestation time of new books was way to long to be reliably up-to-date. New issues of zines were frequent and regular, and among them were BYTE, PC, Compute and even Family Computing.

We learned the latest that was known about these early TRS-80, Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. But better, was the programming tips we could learn by typing code that was included on the zines’ pages.

A Home Accounting program for the Commodore Pet computer
Submitted by Robert Baker of Atco, NJ
January 1980

Of course, the programs never worked the first time. It was impossible to key the code in without mistakes. So we spent as much time going back and decoding the programs, OR we taught ourselves how to write our own programs.

😉

Left, Right, Up & Down in U.S. Politics

I ran across an incredible web site today. As someone who is interested in politics, and especially its ongoing evolution, this really scratched an itch. It’s voteview.com and they record all rollcall votes cast by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, going back to the first congress of 1789-1791.

I was looking for data that I could visualize to indicate the degree to which Republicans and Democrats have crossed, implying times of compromise. But I found the following visualization on voteview.com that showed me exactly what I wanted to illustrate.

Click to Enlarge

I have marked the region between 1940, marking the beginning of the Roosevelt/Wallace administration and 1980, marking the beginning of the Reagan/Bush era. You notice a lot of crossover between Republicans and Democrats. The Liberal to Conservative scale was determined by the DW-NOMINATE or Dynamic Weighted NOMINAl Three-step Estimation.  I call that period “the good old days,” because it is the period of U.S. political history with which I identify and measure current conditions.

Another interesting application of DW-NOMINATE is the geography data.  You can enter your zip code and you see the ideology of your district’s representatives.  The positions of the red or blue bars are based on the NOMINATE index value of your representatives during that particular congress.  Below and left shows the ideologies of representatives from Raleigh, North Carolina going back to my graduation from high school.  The right shows the ideologies of representatives from Cherryville, my home town, going back to high school.  I just think this is cool!

Lewis, Jeffrey B., Keith Poole, Howard Rosenthal, Adam Boche, Aaron Rudkin, and Luke Sonnet (2017). Voteview: Representing places through time. https://voteview.com/

Lewis, Jeffrey B., Keith Poole, Howard Rosenthal, Adam Boche, Aaron Rudkin, and Luke Sonnet (2017). Voteview: Parties Overview . https://voteview.com/

Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14

San Antonio was great last year, especially EduBloggerCon (now called something else) and the photo walk with my very good Apple Distinguished Educator-friends. It was also wonderful reconnecting with far flung colleagues, even if I couldn’t instantly call up many of their names. It’s one of my many cognitive difficulties.

But dispite my original and enthusiastic intentions, I won’t be visiting Atlanta this year for ISTE’14. I know that there have been speculations about my health. But at this point, aside from a persistently high triglyceride count, I am perfectly healthy, still walking between 2 and 5 miles a day. In many ways, I’ve never felt better. The pressure is off. I’ve let go of the three gigs a week expectation and spend my office time, working on projects that interest me. Lately it’s been converting out-of-print books about local and family history to Kindle-ready formats for my Dad, who needs 144 point font for reading. I’ve also been updating Class Blogmeister code and ramping the service up with some JQuery magic. And I’m still doing some speaking, Kuwait early next month. So don’t stop calling.  I’m just taking the pressure cap off and

..finding a new intersection between play, passion and purpose.

Nope it’s not health that’s changed my mind about ISTE this year. I actually submitted proposals to present, including “Bookbag 2024,” which I had so much fun doing at NCTIES this winter. In a sense, It would have been a swan song presentation, “Heres what education looks like ten years from now, if we continue to do our jobs well and resist the corporate-ization of public education.”

Alas, that proposal was rejected. To be fair, the second proposal was accepted, but not as the spotlight sessions I’ve done for the past decade or so.  That proposal was for an entertaining, interactive, but research-based session about the pedagogies of video games. It was a good proposal, and I suspect that some reader had checkboxes of proposal characteristics and trending topics – and that write-up pushed a lot of buttons, while some role-playing old codger telling stories and speculating about the future didn’t.

I won’t lie and say that I don’t taste sour grapes.  But I take nothing from ISTE.  In fact my wife and I have been trying to figure out some way to start a scholarship to send one or more North Carolina educators to ISTE each year.

I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators – a fact that I was reminded of earlier this morning as I read a number of  thoughtful and otherwise kick-ass blog posts in my FlipBoard, most of them authored by educators who could have been the children of the students I taught nearly 40 years ago.

This is by no means the end of my public speaking, blogging, tweeting and what ever comes next.  Many of you will see me again, as I walk the stage trying to infect you with shakabuku.

But not at ISTE ’14.

More Evidence of a More Playful Society & A Really Bad Trip

Those who have seen my “Cracking the Code of the ‘Native’ Learning Experience” presentation are familiar with my theory that we have become a more playful society. We spend our cognitive surplus in more interesting ways than ever before. Here is more evidence, a photo taken down Glenwood Avenue, just minutes after Brenda and I had driven through last Wednesday on our way toward a hotel near the Raleigh-Durham Airport. WRAL.com invited people to playfully add to the photo.  You can see a slideshow of the photo manipulations here.

This part was not fun.  Often, when snow is in the forecast and I’m flying out, I’ll stay in a hotel near RDU the night before so that I’m only a shuttle-ride away the next morning. It had only just started snowing when we left the house for what is usually a fifteen minute drive. Shortly after riding and pushing our sedan up and down Glenwood Avenue and seeing the gridlock that had already formed in the in-bound lanes, we decided that she would not be able to drive back home. So we went straight to the airport, parked the car, and set out looking for taxis, one to take her back to Raleigh and one to take me to my hotel. The hotel shuttle had stopped running, as had the contracted airport Lincoln Town Car taxi service.

Smaller taxi companies had come to the rescue, older green and yellow and electric red cars and minivans, mostly from Japan and driven by young men with exotic accents. Brenda got one of the early ones, headed for North Hills. I got one of the next ones, delivering folks to airport hotels. After two hours of pushing, both ours and many other cars around us, I was in my room, and after another hour, Brenda had been let off at North Hills, from where she walked the remaining mile+ to the house, and lucky to do so.

The next day, I learned that my flight, one of only two leaving RDU that day, had been delayed until 12:00 noon, messing up my connection in Atlanta. Lacking the confidence change my connection on the web (Brenda does that stuff), I called Delta to do the rescheduling for me and I got a new itinerary, keeping the first class seats Brenda had paid extra for out-of-pocket.

I took an early yellow and green cab to the airport, planning to spend the morning in the Delta Sky Club. It hadn’t occurred to me that the lounge might be closed for the snow. No problem though. We had the rest of the airport to relax in.

The plane out of Raleigh, which had been parked there for two days, ended out leaving around 2:00 PM, because they’d waited until nearly noon to start preparing it, as even the engine needed de-icing. Trying to board with a 1st class boarding pass, I was informed that they didn’t have me listed in their manifest, that the Delta agent I’d spoken with on the phone had mistakenly canceled that flight. They gave me the last seat left, 16A, right next to a Duck Dynasty-looking fellow with a sleeveless shirt and tattoo on his shoulder that said M-R-Ducks. The part about the tattoo a bit of an exaggeration, but the rest of this is true.

Of course my delayed delay out of Raleigh caused me to miss my rescheduled flight, but on landing in Atlanta, a very friendly agent told me that I had already been rebooked on a new flight, leaving in an hour and a half. I walked over to the Delta Ski Club there, only to discover that it was more crowded than the concourse. So I spent 45 minutes in the lobby of the club, talking with Brenda on the phone.

The flight on to Louisville was without incident and I was lucky enough to grab a Ford Fusion Titanium to drive over to the hotel. The next day my talks at the Sacred Hearts Campus in Louisville went very well, such a gracious audience, and thankful too. Brenda and I both had been keeping them updated on my adventures of the previous two days.

Flying out of Louisville the next day was only slightly complicated by more snow during the night, the slight delay leaving me only ten minutes to get from gate B24 to gate A20 for my connection in Atlanta. I made it, though I’m sure that at my age and size, running all that distance with luggage was not a pretty site.

The good news is that every once in a while, I will have a trip like that, where everything that can, does go wrong. And then, I’m charmed for the next 24 months or so.

So, may the remainder of my speaking trips be without incident, and leave me with only the best memories of this professional life as a vagabond educator.

Nc snow meme: Attack on glenwood ave [Web series episode]. (2014). In Slideshows. Raleigh, NC: Capital Broadcasting Company, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.wral.com/wral-tv/image_gallery/13392751/

 

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 7

Here is the 4th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Several Days Earlier: 

They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”

“I’m not finished with it yet, Ms. Crabtree,” Samuel immediately replied, somewhat defensively.

The defensive plea was ignored by the veteran middle school teacher. She expected the reaction from the young man who was more comfortable writing computer code than prose. “I wanted to discuss something anyway. It is a good time in your process.”

The youngster resigned himself as Sally reached over and touched her index finger to the print login on the table’s 19” display. Immediately her tablet display was mirrored to the larger device. She pulled up a comments file that had been sent regarding a project from the previous year by another team. Sally continued by complimenting the boy on his thoroughness and the overall organization of the document, specifically pointing out the logical flow. Then she said, “I want you to read these comments from an architect, concerning the introduction of a project last year to design a school campus of the future.”

As Samuel read, Sally followed, reading it again. The architect had first applauded the students on their insights and technical abilities, but then criticized them brutally on the quality of their writing. She (the architect) explained, “Poor written communication conveys a lack of respect for an audience, the product being described, and a lack of respect for the writer himself. Poor communication puts a blemish on the entire message or product that is difficult or impossible to remove again.”

Isaac had walked up and was reading over their shoulders, having planned this meeting with Ms. Crabtree. Isaac said, “Writing text for people to read is a lot like writing computer code. Computer code is text that is written for a computer. You write it to convince the machine to do what you want it to do. If the syntax of the code is wrong, then the computer does not perform as you intended.”

He continued, “You write for people in order to affect them in some way, to inform them about a topic or event, or to cause them to behave in some way. If your syntax is wrong, then you can fail in what you want to accomplish.”

Samuel cocked his head slightly, a personal gesture indicating he was considering what the adults had said. Then he reminded Ms. Crabtree that he had not cleaned up the text, but admitted that he had never thought about grammar in that way. He said that he might get Mr. Johnson or Ms. Shuni to recommend some instructional software to improve his intuitive grammar skills.

Ms. Crabtree is drawn back to the presentation as Alf rises and walks to the front of the room. As he turns to face the audience, he nods to Desmone, who begins the multimedia presentation. Sally could tell from the expression on her face that Desmone is nervous about controlling the presentation since she had not yet seen it.

The story continues here.

One more Challenge to the Geographically Deprived

After finishing up the last episode of Breaking Bad  Brenda and I applied ourselves to finding another moderate to long-running TV series to binge-watch, two episodes a night.  We were looking for another character-based crime drama, though nothing so emotionally stressful as BB.  Martin suggested The Wire and we gave it a try.  If it had been just me, I would have nixed the show after the first episode.

“What’s going on?”  

“What did he say?”

But, as is often the case, three episodes in to this series created by author and former police reporter, David Simon, and we were hooked.  Essentially, the show is about life, death, business and politics in neighborhoods that the rest of America would rather pretend aren’t there.  In the show, they are “the projects,” “the towers,” “the vacants,” “the east side,” “the west side.”

One of the aspects of The Wire that most impresses me is its portrayal of both good and bad, wisdom and near-sightedness, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery on both sides of the criminal code.

But mostly, it’s about thriving in economically depressed Baltimore in the first years of the 21st century, facing drugs, disease, murder and gangster politics.

And, in season 4, a new evil threat emerges from Eric Overmyer’s scripts, reaffirming the futility of trying to rise out of the streets of east and west Baltimore.  You guessed it.  It’s the effects of high-stakes testing on the lives of children and their teachers.

I find it interesting that a major network, even if it’s a limited-view premium network like HBO, has placed, along side violence, disease, and dysfunctional government, the debilitating effects of an education system, based increasingly on bubble-sheet compliance.

Learn by Doodling

Circuite Scribe

If you are a follower of this blog, then you’re aware that I am employing both of my children to curate their own teacher resource blogs (Infographic-A-Day & Vid-A-Day), and that I syndicate them into 2¢ Worth.

One, posted by Martin the other day, really caught my attention (Circuit Scribe, the new way to teach and use circuits). It’s an ink, developed at the university of Illinois, through which electrical current can be carried. Their (electroninks) intent is an innovative way to help youngsters come to understand circuits. They doodle their circuit ideas with Circuit Scribe pens, lay components on their drawings, and throw the switch.

Part of what intrigued me about the project was our education community’s growing interest in helping students learn by making things – with tools, wires and code. This product is such a threshold-free approach to learning circuit design.

The other thing that provoked me to comment here is my son – and I hope that Martin doesn’t mind my bringing his personal experience into this. You see, Martin is incredibly talented at becoming an expert in areas that interest him. Many of you know that he is a celebrated master musician. But he constantly surprises us when he suddenly can talk with us about that never seemed of interest to him before, such as some old movie we’ve just seen.  He’s telling us about the director, actors, academy award nominations, related works and stories about its production. He’s especially fond of the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson.

He can also tell you almost anything about the NBA and is currently learning a lot about the NFL, via his fantasy football league. He is definitely not the athletic jock type (band geeks were big on campus in his high school) and has never expressed any interest in sports until recently.

To the point of this writing, I find it interesting that my son zoomed in on this video about Circuit Scribe. You see Martin dropped out of the computer science program of one of our state universities, because he hated programming – and I think I know why. They were not teaching him to doodle. I don’t mean literally draw his programs with conductive ink. They weren’t helping him learn to code the way I learned to code. He was being made to learn programming in the same way that I was taught grammar. It was about memorizing proper syntax, instead of learning to make computers do interesting and useful things.

My children will both find their intersections of play, purpose and passion, and it will (hopefully) be something they can make a living at.

..and they’ll do it in spite of the “test-prep” curriculum that dominated their childhoods.

 

Write your Paper like a Pro

Today’s infographic is simple and to the point. A big part of grade school and even college and onward, is writing papers. Some professions write more papers than others, but it is still an important skill in order to get your point across. This infographic uses venn diagrams to convey the importance of different parts […]

Today’s infographic is simple and to the point. A big part of grade school and even college and onward, is writing papers. Some professions write more papers than others, but it is still an important skill in order to get your point across. This infographic uses venn diagrams to convey the importance of different parts of papers, and to show how they interact with one another. It also shows how much of your paper should include each part.

Of course every paper should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion. It should also include several point in the middle, that are introduced and concluded in the introduction and conclusion. But how should the middle be laid out? That is up to the author, but it should there is a bit of a formula.

This infographic does a great job of showing that there should be pros and cons. You should always share how your paper may be argued against, and go ahead and prove some of these points wrong. In addition, a good paper should show why the information is important. Why should someone read your paper?

Show this to your students whenever a paper is assigned. Make sure your students are ready to write a good paper, and know what is involved in writing such a paper.

Blog: http://visual.ly/write-your-paper-right

WARNING added later by David Istlandoll: This is one of those really useful and appealing infographics with embed codes for posting on your own blog or english class web site – that, when you go to the source, you find a quite well-implemented paper mill. We should all be aware that infographics have become the new BAIT to get you to the web sites that make money for people who are often providing unscrupulous and fraudulent services.