Thursday, February 26, 2009

Animation Site

I was preparing a simple unit on animation for my multimedia kids and wanted a good reference on creating a walking figure. Much harder than it sounds if you have never tried it before, but all my kids eventually want to create a walking person for their projects. I needed to find some good reference drawings to show them.

I Googled. I sorted.

I discovered this website, Idleworm. It has some great information on creating a decent walking character along with some helpful pictures to demonstrate what the author is talking about.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Edge

Doug Kelsey recently wrote a piece about Three things that make work and recovering from injuries meaningful. His focus was on physical recovery but I thought his comments about challenge and working at the edge were applicable to learning. He said:
"I refer to this as "edging". Push until you find the edge and then push a little more. Your body will not change on it's own. Sorry but every body is inherently lazy; always seeking the path of least resistance; spending the least amount of energy possible. Edge, edge, edge."

Isn't this also the space where learning takes place. As a teacher, I am constantly trying to get my kids to step up to the edge. I was demonstrating some simple animation principles in my multimedia class the other day. I was doing it old school, in that I was having the students draw in each frame within the program. One student had some previous experience with animation and knew about tweening or letting the program draw all the frames between two keyframes. This is a great time saver but used in it's simplest form, it looks like a ball floating across the screen. With a few animator tricks (squash and stretch for example) it suddenly looks like a ball bouncing. This young ma wasn't willing to go beyond his comfort level to try out my suggestions. Eventually he got angry that his results weren't as good as the folks on either side of him and he gave up.

My failure was not being able to get him to step up to the edge. To trust me enough to move beyond his comfort zone. It may be that he doesn't trust any teacher. His failure was not taking the chance. Maybe he has fallen off the edge one time too many?

[Image: Flickr: "Cliff Edge": Uploaded on June 19, 2007 by several_bees: Commons-Some rights reserved]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Release Mechanisms

Building release mechanisms came up frequently with students in my tech lab. They often wanted to create a release for Rube Goldberg type devices. I hate to admit that I was less than helpful. It wasn't an area of stregth for me. Since then, I've been exploring mechanical releases for a project I am working on and was pleasantly surprised to find this video from Make in my RSS feed that discusses two release devices ideal for heavy loads: a pelican hook or a panic snap.

Maker to Maker - Load-Release Devices on MAKE: television from make magazine on Vimeo.

[via Make]

[Image captured from Jamestown Distributers:!6456&keyword=pelican_hook]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gever Tulley: TED Talk as a comic book

Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, gave a talk at TED recently and created a comic book to hand out to the participants. It is available here for download. I highly recommend it. I often feel like we've got away from the idea of letting kids learn by doing. It's too messy. It's too hard to measure. It looks too much like play and not enough like instruction. It can be hard to match to a standard.

I may be wrong. Old fashioned even. I still think it is a valuable way to learn. Not the only way but one way. And one way we shouldn't deprive our children from experiencing.

I'll link to his new TED talk when it come available. Until then take a peek at his last talk: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do!

Oh....and the idea of using a comic book format to present information. I am so going to use this!

[Update: I was inspired to buy Comic Life to help me create comic style documents after reading Tulley's comic book style notes. Probably write more on this program later, but I posted my first attempt.]
[via Make] [Images captured from TinkeringSchool: by Gever Tully: 2009: Creative Commons-no derivative]

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Bubbl is one of several mindmapping applications available online. I've been looking for something I can use with my web design students. I want them to map out some fairly large sites and I need something that lets them do this easily and collaboratively.

I experimented with Bubbl and it seems to do what I want. So, I recetly took a deep breath and had my web students sign up. We started building a site map together and it worked better than my experience with WriteMaps (File Structure and web design and Writemaps: Followup) but still isn't perfect. On more than one occasion, students ended up loosing some of their edits. But with a few tweaks in how we worked it met our needs.

I'm going to try out a few other programs but we'll be using Bubbl in the meantime. I'm thinking of maybe using just a wiki of some sort. I'm in a class that will be exploring some of the uses of wiki's this semester and maybe that will give me some guidance on the "perfect" program.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Haptic Compass

I've always been fascinated by the idea of clothing or jewelry that could augment our own senses in some helpful way. I already wear one of these inventions every day. I call them eye glasses. My students call them old fashioned.
"Why don't you get contacts Mr. G? It would make you look so much younger!"

The belt in this article has a series of small vibrators built into it and which are then wired into an electronic compass. If I understand it correctly, the vibrator closest to North is always activated (vibrating) effectively keeping you continuously oriented. I'd love to try something like this out.

I have often wondered if you did use a device like this if it would improve your sense of direction or hurt it when you took it off. Would your body get dependent on it or would it help you to better utilize all your senses? Fun research question.

[via Make]
[Image: Captured from "Haptic Compass": Make:]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Inside the Pop-Up Studio

If for nothing else, watch this video to see how Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart create an animation effect using a pop up.

High on my list of things I want to do when I have more time or retire or am trapped in a paper warehouse with a pair of scissors and a bottle of glue is to explore pop ups.

Engineering. Mechanics. Design.

What more could you want?

Inside the Pop-Up Studio from paul b on Vimeo.

[via Make]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Specialty Bottle

I was constantly scrounging containers for my technology lab. Things to keep little screws and what-nots organized. My students had to bring in as part of their materials list a small cardboard box, a paper tube and a jar or coffee can. No stinkin' pencil boxes or three ring binders in my class! The paper products were used for prototyping various contraptions and the jar and/or coffee can was used to store parts. I could never seem to get enough containers.

When I saw this post on CoolTools I immediately clicked over to the site. There were several items I thought might be handy in my tech lab, my garage or my kitchen. When I redesign my camping box this spring, I'll be surfing over to Specialty Bottle to see what I might purchase. Right now some of those bottles with the push dispensors look handy for oil or soap or maybe chocolate syrup.

There are no minimum orders and the prices seem very reasonable. If anybody else has had experience with this vendor. Leave a comment and let me know.

[via CoolTools]
[Image: Captured from Specialty Bottle:]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Comic Life

I've been messing around with a new program this weekend: Comic Life. When I first loaded it into my system, I was also listening to the weekly workshop from the guys at Tangier Sound. The first three minutes was a story about Patrick dropping his camera into the marsh mud. I grabbed some screen shots, pretty much used the dialog from the video and ended up with this cartoon.

So far I'm pretty impressed with the program. (If you click on the cartoon, it will load a larger version). My apologies to the Patrick and Dear Old Dad for the "duck poop" comment. They didn't say that. I used to teach middle school. It is the only excuse I have!

Kangoo: First time outside

It was overcast this morning and the temperature was hovering around 24 degrees' Fahrenheit. The ground was dry. There was no wind. I figured it was now or never as snow is forecast. I dressed in layers and buckled up the Kangoo Jumps and headed for the street. Let me warn you about stairs! My only close call today was going down the steps in front of our house. A little tricky the first time.

I did a simple walk/run circuit exactly the same way I would if I was starting a running program. Walk a short distance. Run a short distance. Repeat. My route is through a suburban neighborhood so I normally walk a block and then run a block. With this kind of program, you gradually increase the amount of time you run and decrease the amount you walk until you are running the entire distance (or time).

First thing. Practice stopping. When I came to a street I needed to cross I ended up stopping a few feet into the street. Luckily, no cars. After that I worked on coming to a complete halt. It's kind of like going from a fast jog to a slow jog until you are jogging in place.

Second thing. Be prepared for people to stare at you. It reminds me of when I first started running back in the early seventies. People would honk their horns or yell funny comments from their cars. Families in their front yards would stop what they were doing to stare at the crazy man. Today I had several people about snap their necks as they turned back to look as they drove by. It was too early and cold for anybody to be out on the streets but I expect I will get stares and comments. Hard on a shy guy like me. If it lets me run. I'll deal.

Third, the workout. I feel like I am lifting my feet higher. Almost like I'm marching. I am thinking a little harder about how I am placing my feet and working on coming down more towards my heel and letting the natural curve of the boot help push me forward. I also feel like I am running a bit bow-legged. This might be in response to the size of the shoes or it might just be that I am over thinking it. Still no pain or discomfort in my knees or back.

Lastly, it was fun. I'm looking forward to getting out more. I'll get back to you on my experience as soon as I get a couple more runs under my belt.

[Image: "Al in his bouncy boots": Taken by Larilyn Meyer. No comments on the winter beard. Yes I know how gray it is. Yes I know how old I am getting to be. Look at the boots not my face!]

Funny: Valentine's Day

[via xkcd]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kangoo: twenty minutes

Felt like my cold has finally wound down enough that I could work up a sweat without passing out. Selected twenty minutes of music, put on the Kangoo Jumps and did some aerobics. Nothing strenuous. I'd jump around for about a minute, walk for a minute and repeat.
  • No discomfort in my knees.
  • Didn't think to check my pulse until just now, but felt like it elevated pretty quickly.
  • Occasionally would feel a bit off balance but the boots fit so firmly, I quickly regained my balance.
  • Ankles never felt compromised.
  • Felt it the most in my hips. I'm curious to see if this holds true when I take them out for a jog?

If it doesn't snow, jogging (with a lot of walking) will happen this weekend.

Funny: First Date

cartoon archive at

Funny: Boyfriend

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bill Gates TED Talk

Bill Gates talks about two problems that his foundation is working on. You may not agree with him but he is asking interesting questions.

1. How do we stop a deadly disease that is spread by mosquitos?
2. How do you make a teacher great?

Follow up discussion to this talk.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WriteMaps: Follow up

I wrote about WriteMaps recently, an online program that allows you to easily map out a website. It looked like just the tool to help my high school students get a handle on some of their bigger design projects. One of the features that drew me was the ability to share a document between several users. I thought this would be great for small group work.

I had my entire class sign into WriteMaps and that happened without a hitch. We spent some time experimenting with the features and I then had a simple assignment where they would each add one node to a master document. It didn't work. Only a few kids were able to get in and change the doc. The rest of the changes went out into the nether regions never to be seen again. I've had similar occurrences in other groupware where if you have too many users at one time, it won't work.

No problem. I'm a flexible teacher and my hair can't get much grayer than it is now. So, I set them up into small groups of three and had them try to work on a document at the same time. I still got mixed results. Work was lost. Kids were frustrated. I had to back up a few steps.

I will still have the students do some mapping with the program but my plans for working collaboratively on one large site with this as our centerpiece have been scrapped for the time being. I emailed Scott Jehl (author of the program) asking if there is a way around this. When I hear back, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I am exploring other options.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

kangoo: Too sick to bounce

Been sick with a cold past three days. We've had wonderful weather here in the Denver area but I've been laying around wrapped up in a comforter drinking tea and going through a tree's worth of kleenex. Haven't had much chance to try out my new Kangoo boots. Too sick to bounce.

This morning I couldn't stand it anymore and put them on and did just a little bouncing around the house. I watched a video on YouTube that demoed some aerobic moves using the boots. Essentially, run in place, then bounce on one foot a couple of times, then run in place. I put the boots on for the second time and found that my balance was much better. I was able to do the moves from the video and I bounced for about five minutes before I had to stop and blow my nose.

Here's hoping I feel better before it snows later this week.

Invisibilia: Photoshop Activity

Cool tutorial on replacing a part of a photo with a drawing. I find them strangely intriguing. In particular, the ones where there is more than one person in the picture. Invisibilia is the web site where the author of the tutorial has posted a bunch of examples. Warning: There is some nudity here. So take a look before you share with students. The top picture here is off the site. The second is one I did following the tutorial.

The author has this to say about the photos:
Maybe the pictures illustrate the idea that we all want to remove ourselves from life, and replace ourselves with fictional, self-created versions of ourself. We want to fictionalise our own existence, and impose order and narrative where there is none. Or maybe it's just tracing. Either way, I hope you enjoy the pics.

I'll be trying it out with my multimedia kids later this year. It isn't hard to do as long as you have Photoshop or some other program that lets you work with layers. I put this one together in about 15 minutes.

[via Make]

[First Image: "Invisible Phone": Captured from Invisiblia:]
[2nd Image: Group shot from a DU Poetry Slam (2008): Modified by Al Gunn]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Camera Mount on the Cheap

Here is the latest find in my quest to find inexpensive ways to build a functioning, complete studio for our video students. It's a simple idea. Create a camera mount that would allow you to use a mic stand. They won't give you the same flexibility as a tripod, but I'm thinking in some cases a camera mounted on a sturdy, single pole might come in handy.

It has also got me to thinking about other things I might attach to a mic stand. Lights? Reflectors? Wind guards? Might have to brave the cold in my garage to see what I can create.
[via Make]
[Image captured from Make: Mic Stand Camera Mount:]

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kangoo: My new jumpy boots

I wrote in my Christmas Wish List that I'd like a pair of Kangoo Jumps. These are essentially ski boots with springs on the bottom. A device you might see Wiley Coyote buy from Acme, strap to his feet and in the process of chasing after Roadrunner, bounce off a cliff. I couldn't find any locally to try out but they sounded like something I could use to run a few miles a week without hurting my back or knees. Another blogger mentioned that he had purchased a pair on eBay at a more reasonable price than buying from the official store. What did I have to lose?

My pride. Maybe.

My dignity. Likely.

Loss of respect of my Kangoo-less peers. Assured.

Ahhhhhh, but for the chance to run again with the breeze blowing through my hair and the giddy feel of a runners's high. To run like the wind. To waltz with the wolves. Prance with the cheetahs. Feel the road pass beneath me as I move towards the horizon.

It was worth the risk. I started watching eBay for a pair. A set of KJ5-pro2s in my size became available for a little under $120 (that includes shipping and handling from Canada). I bought them and they got here today.

I found little information on the web about these shoes other than the info from the official website. Lots of rehashing of the same stuff with few recommendations and only one negative comment. I'll make a few posts about the boots to add to the collective knowledge available. If I had found more anecdotal information, I might not have waffled so long in my decision. I don't sell them (unless I hate them at which point this pair will go back onto eBay) so my comments aren't influenced by trying to get more folks to jump on the Kangoo wagon.

My first reaction when I pulled them out of the box was...."Wow. These are big suckers!" Maybe if I was a skier and used to wearing ski boots, they wouldn't seem so huge. They also are pretty hefty. I read that the weight is one reason for increasing the intensity of your exercise routine. They weigh in at about 4.8 pounds each. This will be a big change from my light weight running shoes.

They seem to be well built. They fit snugly when I first put them on. No slippage. Standing up the first time was a little frightening. I was suddenly some nine inches taller and felt a little unsteady. I had no trouble walking. Standing not so good. I needed to hold onto something or I felt like I was going to tip over.

I walked around for about 10 minutes (in the house) to get used to how they felt. After about five minutes, my hip joints started to feel a little tender. I think from the gait or maybe from lifting up the boots over and over? Or from playing racquetball yesterday? It felt a little bit like I was walking on my tip-toes. The manual mentions that you should avoid running on your toes. This may be something I have to work on.

I did a little bouncing and a few little house isn't big enough to do much more. I never felt like I was going to fall while I was moving. My ankles felt fully supported and there was no uncomfortable rubbing. I figure I'll do a few more short sessions in the house to make sure I'm stable and then I'll take them for a spin outside.

I'll let you know what happens.

Funny:Robotic Call Center

[via Botjunkie]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Newseum: Front Pages from around the World

Every day some 500 plus newspapers from around the world send a pdf copy of their front page to the Newseum who then makes it available to all the rest of us online. Each newspaper is represented by a dot on a map. Run your cursor over the dot and the thumbnail of the page appears. Double-click that dot and you get a readable front page with links to the newspapers web page.

For you world language teachers there are newspapers from all over the world. For you historians, they have archives of specific dates of historical significance, for example, Sept 12, 2001 (day after 9-11).There is a trivia game based on current events that you could play with your class.....or during your break. I believe this could be a nifty little resource for many a classroom. Take a look.

[via Free Technology for Teachers]

[Image: Captured part of the Rocky Mountain News from the Newseum site:]

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ethics of DNA

Kevin Kelly recently posted an article, Open Source DNA that has had me thinking all day. The topic is how private should our DNA be? What will be the social consequences as the cost of sequencing drops? (see the chart)

Kelly says:
Because DNA is seen as conveying not only paternity, and sexual activity, but also the blueprints to each person's persona, the idea of someone else "capturing" it feels wrong. We currently perceive our DNA to be a personal code that contains our past, present and future. If we could just unlock it, we'd know our destiny. And at the same time, we'd better understand our current identity. I avidly encourage everyone to get their DNA sequenced, but I think the benefits are not what we currently believe they are, and I think the idea that these codes encapsulate us is close to superstition. For some folks, the fear of having your DNA stolen is akin to the fear by many tribal people of having their soul stolen by photography. I would argue that getting your DNA sequenced is very much like getting your photo taken. The camera takes your picture and not your soul. And your picture is well… your "picture" is not really yours.
This is just a small sample. Take a look and then share it with your students. It should be a good discussion starter. Ask them a few of these questions.
  • Should DNA be treated like fingerprints?
  • Under what circumstances should someone be able to sequence your DNA? Suspected of a crime? Paternity curiosity? Suspicison of infidelity?
  • Should insurance companies be able to deny you coverage because of your DNA?
  • You throw away a piece of gum and someone picks it up and sequences your DNA and then posts it on the internet. Should that be illegal? Legal? Why?

[image captured from The technium: "Open source DNA":]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Population Density Chart

We talked a lot about the effects of over population back in the seventies. There was a famous often quoted experiment with mice where the little ones were allowed to reproduce all willy-nilly (as mice are wont to do) within a confined space with a finite food supply. The results were always grim. The more crowded they got, the more violent and abhorrent their behavior. If this were true with humans, we should see more violence in countries where the population density is greater. Doesn't seem to hold true.

This chart by Charles Platt (Boing Boing) is a visual representation of population density. He was trying to answer the question:
To what extent do we feel overcrowded, as a species? I’m not talking about resources; just psychological factors.
He concluded that open space isn't really necessary for our mental health.

I wonder if it isn't more of a factor of where we are raised and how we spent our youth. I live in the Denver area. Grew up here. Much of my recreational time was spent going up into the mountains. My dad's idea of a good time was to go as deep into the woods as possible and fish for a week or two. If we ran into someone else, we didn't go far enough.

I lived on the east coast for a while in a rural area of Maryland. I was never able to find that "empty space" feeling I could get in Colorado except Christmas day on the beach. We could walk for an hour or two and never see another person. A woman out there once confided to me that she could never live out west because the towns were too far apart. It scared her when she and her husband were vacationing there. I yearned for what she feared.

I like cities. I like the wilderness. If you made me choose one over the other. Pick a place I would spend the rest of my life. I think it would have to be the wide open spaces. I could give up the city. I don't think I could give up the wilderness.

Think I'll show this to my students and see what they make of it.

[Image captured from Boing Boing: "Charts 3":]

Monday, February 2, 2009

Introducing the Macintosh (1984)

I fondly remember going with my friend Steve in mid eighties to go pick up his new Macintosh. We both had Apple IIe's and were excited to actually get our hands on this new kind of computer. Steve was (and is a musician) and was buying the Mac because of some of the music software available (maybe Finale.....I'll have to ask him next time we talk). I was excited, well, because even back then I was kind of geeky.

We unpacked it and had it up and running after installing many disks worth of software. One floppy at a time. I was blown away by the graphics. Amazed by the mouse. In love with the simple drawing program (MacPaint) that came with the machine. I left that day wondering how long it would take me to save up enough money to get a Mac.

It's hard for folks who weren't into computers back then or too young to understand what a shift in technology that machine represented. I realized the other day that all of my students have grown up with graphical interfaces. Then I realized how old I was getting to be. Then I had to rest from all the thinking.

Here is a YouTube video of Steve Jobs presenting that Mac 25 years ago.

Here is the famous Mac commercial that aired only once during Superbowl in 1984

[via Free Technology for Teachers]

[Image: Captured from Wikipedia:]