Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is Cuil Cool(er)?

Cuil (pronounced "cool") - is all the buzz since its launch yesterday.

A new, and purportedly "better" search engine than Google, started by ex-Googlers, has received much press (odd term to use in the context of the Internet, I guess) in the past 24-48 hours.

Here are a few links -
I will reserve my own comments until I have tried it out some more. I do like the look of the results pages, if only because they are a welcome change from the usual style of results pages on Google and other commonly used search engines.

A search on "Isaac Newton" (well, yes, my son was sitting next to me at the time) - threw up interesting results and interestingly laid out as well. The very first result is a german site! There were of course tabs that organized the results and the neat "Explore by category" widget on the right. Check it out...

On the other hand - a search on "cuil" on both Google and Cuil was super interesting. The search engine did not feature anywhere in its own search results, whereas it was top of the heap on Google! Go figure!

By the way, I do believe Cuil's claim that they crawl through more of the Internet. Why? Well, I came across an academic publication (that has my name among the authors) in the archives of University libraries that I had never seen in Google searches before (yes, I did compare how my "vanity search" results stack up :-))

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch Lives on in Alice

[Update: I blogged about this originally on April 10th, 2008, but wanted to promote this to the top of the heap today as Randy Pausch passed away a few hours ago.

Here are a couple of great lines (lessons?) from his famous 'last lecture':

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.

The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.

RIP Randy Pausch...]

-------------------------------Original Post (from April 10, 2008) ---------------------

Or I should say "Randy Pausch will live on in Alice".

55 minutes or so into his now famous "last lecture" (more on that lecture later), Randy Pausch (47-year old terminally ill star professor of Virtual Reality at Carnegie Mellon) states
"To the extent that someone can live on in something, I will live on in Alice."

Well a post on Alice belongs in this blog, since so many posts have been devoted to talking about programming environments that help kids be creators rather than consumers of cool stuff like games, and digital stories and 3D worlds in cyberspace. These environments make it easy for kids to program i.e. make possible what is inherently pretty tough to do. In the process, they also teach kids to problem-solve and learn concepts of computer science like algorithmic ways of thinking and ideas like "messaging" and "objects" and "behaviours" or as Pausch calls it - the classic "head fake" - where you learn stuff without realizing that you're learning stuff (a great way to teach kids stuff that they think is too hard or beyond their reach).

So, what is Alice?
"Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment designed with middle and high schoolers in mind, that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience."
There's a wealth of material on the website on how Alice can be used to teach computer science to Middle and High School kids through creating story-telling and 3D-gaming environments (with characters from the popular PC game 'Sims').

Randy Pausch says of Alice "To think that millions of kids are having so much fun learning something that is so hard (programming)...that's pretty cool ... that's a legacy I can live with".

Of the lecture here's all I will say, it's a must-see for parents, teachers and children (old enough to internalize the import of his lessons on life and living), delivered with the clarity of thought and passion that only comes from knowing that you have but a few months to live, and by a man who has obviously accomplished plenty, lived a rich life, and had a lot of FUN doing all the things he's done. Here it is....

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Human Side of Moore's Law

Really enjoyed reading this article by journalist Bob Cringely (shared by Vishu Singh on educatorslog.in).

Cringely asserts that while the performance of personal computers has increased a millionfold over the last 30 years (following Moore's Law), it takes about as much time (30 years) - one human generation - for waves of technological innovation to be completely absorbed by our culture.

He goes on to talk about the impact on education of the "empowerment" that these technologies have brought about among today's younger generation.
"We've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools."
A few more interesting excerpts that resonate well with what I figure is going on in education today the world over, at varying speeds - in India perhaps slower than in others, but happening nonetheless.

"Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I'm sure today Dave wouldn't bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we're moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work? And what's wrong with crimping a paragraph here or there from Cringely if it shows you understand the topic?

This is, of course, a huge threat to the education establishment, which tends to have a very deterministic view of how knowledge and accomplishment are obtained - a view that doesn't work well in the search economy. At the same time K-12 educators are being pulled back by No Child Left Behind, they are being pulled forward (they probably see it as pulled askew) by kids abetted by their high-tech Generation Y (yes, we're getting well into Y) parents who are using their Ward Cleaver power not to maintain the status quo but to challenge it.

This is an unstable system. Homeschooling, charter schools, these things didn't even exist when I was a kid, but they are everywhere now. There's only one thing missing to keep the whole system from falling apart - ISO certification.


Well reputation still holds in education, though its grip is weakening. I know kids from good families who left high school early with a GED because they were bored or wanted to enter college early. Maybe college is next.

MIT threw videos of all its lecture courses - ALL its lecture courses - up on the web for anyone to watch for free. This was precisely comparable to SGI (remember them?) licensing OpenGL to Microsoft. What is it, then, that makes an MIT education worth $34,986? Is it the seminars that aren't on the web? Faculty guidance? Research experience? Getting drunk and falling in the Charles River without your pants? Right now it is all those things plus a dimensionless concept of educational quality, which might well go out the window if some venture capitalist with too much money decides to fund an ISO certification process not for schools but for students.

The University of Phoenix is supposedly preparing a complete middle and high school online curriculum available anywhere in the world. I live in Charleston, SC where the public schools are atrocious despite spending an average of $16,000 per student each year. Why shouldn't I keep my kids at home and online, demanding that the city pay for it?

Because that's not the way we do it, that's why.

Well times are changing."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

@ NECC - 4: Education 2.0 in India

From my session on educatorslog.in at NECC 2008 - Education 2.0 in India: Community and Sharing through Blogging and Tagging...

More on Shirky's Here Comes Everybody

Having just returned from the NECC where there were buttons any direction you looked, I feel that the book cover of the UK version of Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is so much more interesting and apt.

Talking about the idea of the "WE over I" - the name iPhone seems rather inappropriate, especially when you see people constantly conversing, communicating, collaborating over those sleek devices... wePhone would be so much more apt - or maybe wiiPhone! Not having one myself made me feel quite the outcast at NECC - a fact underscored by a remark Will Richardson made in jest - "Oh! You're SO 2007!"

Shirky's book was also at the center of an interesting session at EduBloggerCon 08 (see previous '@ NECC' posts); and here's an interesting post on the book on Jeff Atwood's blog Coding Horror.

Finally, here's a 42+ minute video of Shirky talking about his book at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in Feb this year.

(My own distant connection with Shirky - if it can be termed "connection"...I wrote a letter of recommendation for a design student in Bangalore when he was applying for the Graduate Program at the ITP at NYU in 2005...he did get admission, and went on to take Shirky's course(s?) at ITP :))

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

@ NECC - 3:The Collective Over the Individual

It's not about YOU or ME or I today, it's about US, and what WE can accomplish together.

That seems to be the big message out at NECC that concluded today. Here's a video of the opening keynote address by James Surowiecki author of Wisdom of Crowds who described several examples that demonstrate time and again how the decision-making ability of a diverse group of people is more effective than that of individuals (even 'experts').

It was great that I had my session on educatorslog.in soon after the keynote, since the philosophy of sharing resources on educatorslog.in is much the same - that the knowledge of the collective is greater that that of any one individual who is a member of the online community.

As mentioned in my previous post, Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody - about how web2.0 is revolutionizing the social order - also garnered a lot of interest especially at EduBloggerCon 2008.

@NECC 2008 - 2: EduBloggerCon 08

A few words about EduBloggerCon 2008 - the "unconference" or rather "collaborative conference" at NECC pulled together by Steve Hargadon. For more on the idea of an "unconference" - check this post by Steve.

I was unable to attend the various sessions as I was busy taking care of some snafus related to my session the next day and had to make a desperate run a few miles out to get some printing done. I did however enjoy the one I was able to attend - outside in the Second Life space late morning. I liked that it had an informal, unconference feel - in terms of the space especially and how everyone was sitting on couches and chairs, on the floor...some even standing around the periphery, but participating nonetheless...

I also enjoyed the discussions around Clay Shirky’s new book - Here Comes Everybody - The Power of Organizing without Organizations. Many quotable quotes in there, but here's one I'll add here--

"Revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technologies - it happens when society adopts new behaviors"

We're clearly waiting for such a revolution in education.

It's always a pleasure for me to step out of the blogosphere and meet f2f with the active edubloggers from around the world who are shaping web 2.0 in education.

Thanks, Steve, for organizing this. Here's to more such open, collaborative exchanges in the future that help bridge the virtual blogging world with the real world.

A short video put together by Dean Shareski --