Wondering about Wonder at UT Arlington


I will be first to say today’s invited talk at the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab was my own trip through the Time Tunnel, with the year 1989 dialed in.

An archive of the talk is available — here are el slides

A bit of a mashup of some earlier ones on Enquire Within and True Stories of Open Sharing, the title I came up with was Do You Ever Wonder Whatever Happened to Wonder?.

This itself set off my own associative trails of the way Andy Rooney used to whine on 60 Minutes, “Did you every notice…” (he always seemed to be Enquiring About). That in itself led me to reflect on how much my formative years was shaped by this technology:


And then, almost by sheer serendipity, I came across last week this mint gem. This 1993 episode of “Computer Chronicles” introduces it’s audiences to this thing called (air quotes) “the Internet”

So in my talk I used clips of this interspersed with my bits on Enquire within Upon Everything, it’s influence on the boy who grew up to invent the World Wide Web, and the vision of Tim Berner’s Lee for the web:

The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.

I used this as part of what I set out as my opening, big, unanswerable questions:

  • What kind of internet would you like to see?
  • Who gets to control and shape that internet?
  • How do we go about making it happen?

And then did my own arc of the web starting in 1993, and a set of my True Stories of Open Sharing – From HTML to Iceland, Dad’s Drafting Table on the Cover of Cell Journal, and The Amazing Unknown Flower Story.


The fun part was picking out pieces of the Computer Chronicle’s show to connect it to 21 years later, aka “now”

My thanks to George Siemens and the staff of the UTA LINK Lab for making this possible.

So yes, I am nostalgic for that Original Style web, for good reason. We do not have to go back to the technology of 1989 or 1993, but it would sure to get the vision and sensibility back.

I am a Smart-Ass

Published tonight on medium.com – am still finding my way around the writing space. I find it makes me actually go over my words like 4 or 5 times rather than my typo-ridden blurt here. But anyhow, the real truth behind the origin of the Internet

I am a Smart-Ass
(the Internet was built for me)

I could have just as well written it here. And I just was about to publish and was looking at what I had blogged here– I kind of grumble at some people who write in one place with just a link elsewhere.

This was a post idea that literally came to me in the shower, though I am pretty sure I’ve written parts of this in some aspect here. But it is one of those cases where most of the blogging takes place away from the blog– in my head. There is always more than works itself as I write, and things are moved, chopped, added. But the thought out ones are fun to work with.

The addition tonight was thinking about all of those writing projects I did in Middle and High School, and how my teachers really ate up the ones where I took an existing story and mockified it. I actually still have many of my school reports and papers. Again, my Mom’s presence because she had them all in a box in her garage.

So I knew I still had a copy of my rip on the King Arthur story as The Legend of King Archive and the Drivers of the Round Lot


That was a dangerous potential rat hole as I opened the box in my closet with these memory papers. Not for ant sadness, just that I knew I could lose myself in poking through the old stuff.

But yeah, take a smart-ass kid raised on network TV and MAD magazine, toss him into the internet, and he finds his place in the universe mocking up old movie posters and radio shows in ds106.


My God– It’s Full of CMOOCs!


I thought this image was a clever idea, but it may not be quite apparent. I have replaced Dave from 2001 A Space Odyssey with a montage/collage/frommage of George Siemens (image source) and Stephen Downes (image source).

Why? Of course, together they spawned the first cMOOC, CCK08, which really ought to be for Canadian Massive Open Online Course.

You see, what I asked for in Seeking Syndicated / Distributed / Connected Course Examples already has a name.

They are the cMOOCs of the original stardust formation.

From the MOOC Guide

The Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course (CCK08) was the first to incorporate open learning with distributed content, making it the first true MOOC…

What this means is that course content is not located in one place, but may be located anywhere on the web. The course therefore consists of sets of connections linking the content together into a single network. Here is the structure of the CCK08 course network


That’s a relief.

Just don’t club me with a bone.

Seeking Syndicated / Distributed / Connected Course Examples

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Maybe it’s the ramp up of Connected Courses but it’s also some upcoming presentations that made my slap my had with a loud “DOH”. I want to create a collection of examples of (and here is where I mumble because I do not know what to call them) how about DS106ish courses– ones using a distributed participation model but also using syndication/push technology to collect or aggregate activity in one place.

I know my own examples, all framed around the WordPress / Feed WordPress structure I’ve been deep in since ds106, but also have built out maybe 7 others (and another in the works this week). But others have done this same thing (UMW Abroad has posts back to 2009), in other platforms (all of the cMOOCs Stephen Downes fostered with gRSShopper (Hey Stephen, I thought you had a list of courses you made with this, but I could not find it… help?).

There is the new reverse flow approach of Known that Jim and crew are running now for Wire106. There are I am sure people who have built hubs in NetVibes, and there is the work Laura Gibbs is doing with inoreader (help I can never find a link to where this is!). Before Google deep sixed its Reader I know people like Alec Couros used its bundle capability to embed an aggregator of student blogs.

When this kind of thing comes up… just ask for examples

And they have been coming in, thanks. But I am not quite sure where to draw the bounds as asked by Derek Bruff

So let me try to frame it this way– Courses (and yes, I am looking at more than open collaboration projects, but maybe they need not be pure courses) that are designed/structured where students/participants create the bulk of their work in digital spaces they manage and control (so this is the distributed part) but via a syndication/API/push technology (for simplicity I like calling it syndication, but need not be just RSS) to aggregate the participant activity in some central hub site.

That rules out the stuff where people use Google+ Communities as the locus of activity. It’s interesting, but all of that takes place in one spot, Google’s. And while connectivity is going on in your course, Derek, I am not quite sure. But hey, toss examples in there. And FemTechNet probably has most of this covered, but its more of a network of networks. I do count Jonathan Worth’s original Phonar approach thought really the “syndication” was the comments on a wordpress site, but people published their photo work in other spaces. Phonarnation definitely yes, as all of the photography done by youth was published in flickr, Instagram, but found its way to the main site by aggregation of tags.

But hey, push back, or point me to something more difficult to say yeah/nay. I am looking for other models and approaches too that I do not know about. If you are not sure, just dump it in my doc anyhow. It’s just a brainstorm.

And for a very hot off the press example, Kim Jaxon literally built hers today

Check out her English 692 Digital Cultures hub for a class at Chico State.

If you are in Connected Courses, we will be getting to the “how to I make these” at the end of the course, in unit 6. So hang on tight. If you want to try and follow Kim’s lead, I sent her to my series of Feed WordPress 101 posts.

got syndication

Unpawning Flickr Notes

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by StockMonkeys.com

Hey! Stand up, code up, hack up! Just because [fill in the blank of your favorite web service that yanked the chain on a feature you adored] took away a feature, you are not powerless.

One of my long running favorite flickr features was the ability to annotate part of an image with notes, like making an interactive diagram — like this one, which is in my top most viewed flickr images.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

In the past, you could hover over part of the diagram, and a text bubble would appear with an explanation and a hypertext link.

This is an insanely useful tool for teachers. I can think of few subjects that you cannot find a use for annotating an image or diagram. Or, as I did as one of the 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story, you could weave a choose your own adventure path through a series of flickr photos.




In its rather unpopular redesign earlier this year, flickr completely removed the notes functionality. Gone.

But thanks to Lisa Lane I am Unpawning Myself from flickr. We were actually discussing another Neutered Feature, the audio synced slidecasts from SlideShare, when she pointed out

And sure enough, when I checked her site there was a flickr image with its notes functional!

The answer is MBedr a site someone assembled that creates code that let’s you embed the notes functionality back in. There is no black magic, the flickr photos.getInfo api provides a means to request the notes data from an image.

So the data is there.

But flickr decided that you never get to see it on their site.

PAWN UP! Compare this image to the inert dead one above.

And not just that one, how about

Do not just take being pawned by [fill in the blank of your favorite web service that yanked the chain on a feature you adored] laying down. You have power

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Kaptain Kobold

What’s [Not] in Your Feed Channel?

creative commons licensed wikimedia commons image by Housing Works Thrift Shops

creative commons licensed wikimedia commons image by Housing Works Thrift Shops

While RSS is still a dying technology, I offer some insight into its innards. If the mundane details of feed data make you queasy, carry on. If you want to know what’s going on under the hood of your blog and the Connected Courses syndication hub, then trudge on.

This started with a reasonable request from Liz Dorland, a colleague I’ve known since my mullet headed days at Maricopa

So here is the thing, the list of all syndicated blogs on the site is automatically generated from the RSS feed for each blog, so the title of the blog and the link are ones provided by the blog itself.

There are two main parts of an RSS feed- there is the “Channel” information, which describes the source of the site, and the “items: which are typically all the data of the blog posts. The channel information for this here blog looks like:

<atom:link href="http://cogdogblog.com/feed/" rel="self" type="application/rss+xml"/>
<description>Alan Levine Barks Here</description>
<lastBuildDate>Mon, 08 Sep 2014 15:20:04 +0000</lastBuildDate>

It’s all XML data organized into tags. Whenever Feed WordPress checks a site for new content, it grabs the information listed in the <title>...</title> tag and the <link>...</link>. If the title of a blog changes then Feed WordPress updates it in the database of the aggregator site. This way the blog name and its URL are dynamic, if they change on the source site, the aggregator gets the change (people do rename blogs!).

These are the information bits the script I wrote to generate the list of blogs and links. So if an RSS feed does not provide good information, that shows up.

In the case of Liz’s Blog, the feed information for the channel is… well… messed up. fubar


Notice that the title is blank. Even worse the link tag has the wrong URL- it should be the URL for her blog is http://www.hastac.org/blog/884/ but the link tag value in the RSS feed is the one for the RSS feed itself.

I cannot do much about bad RSS information (except make drupal jokes). But Feed WordPress offers a way to override the lack of good information.

liz settings

The default setting for the feed information is Update automatically from feed, but I can change the blog title and the link to be manually entered, so here I am entering the correct information.

But do not let me rest too much on my WordPress Snobbery– it’s feeds are a bit clunky too. The source name for a tag of category comes in, like for Brian Lamb’s blog where he is using a “connected courses” tag as

Abject » connected courses

I’d sooner see this as “Abject tagged ‘connected courses'”

But worse, the link which should point to his tag archive, instead points to the root of his entire blog.

links cates

This is why I modified the script to point to all of the posts on the Connected Courses site syndicated from each blog (this is essentially an author archive, where the author is Brian’s blog).

If your blog’s name is horribly wrong, I can be coaxed into editing it like I did Liz’s. Frankly I hope someone notifies the HASTAC site about the foulups in their RSS feeds. I don’t think developers really care that much about the quality of the channel feed data.

But I thought maybe one person out there might want to know the nuts and bolts on the blog names and links.

And hey- did you notice we added a link to download an OPML file? That is a way you can import al of the Connected Course blogs into an RSS Reader, a much better way to navigate the fire hose (someone tell Google this is useful) (that ship has sailed).

From Javier to Norbert


It’s raining today in Arizona.

As “Bone Mama” Mary McCann used to say on KUKQ radio in Phoenix, we are having an outbreak of weather. Today’s outbreak is courtesy of Hurrican Norbert taking a wet trip up the west coast.

It reminded me of something.

Almost exactly 10 years ago, another hurricane named Javier made this trip. According to Wikipedia “Javier caused no direct fatalities, and the damage in Mexico and the United States was minimal.” but also “Grand Canyon, Arizona received 3.30 inches (84 mm) of rain, exactly one fifth of its yearly average.”

I can vouch for that.

In September 2004, my stepson travis and I headed out for a backpack trip down the Hermit Trail into the Grand Canyon. The day started as expected, with something that looked like this:

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I had done my research for planning the hike, but not checking the weather. In my zeal to pack light, I left the tent at home, taking only the rain fly.

The rain started as we slept that night next to the Colorado River, at the bottom of the canyon. It never really stopped, as I wrote back in this blog in 2004, Grand Canyon (Barely) Survivor. To show my early mindset of blogging, I actually apologize in the opening:

Not to clog this blog with too much non educational technology stories (but I am my own editor and publisher…), I am just back to work today after what was supposed to be a tranquil backpack into the Grand Canyon with my stepson that turned out to be a near death experience.

And like happened earlier this summer, I find myself thankful for having a 10+ year, somewhat imperfect but searchable set of life notes between my photos and blog.

I found my blog post simply by searching my blog for “Hermit Trail”. I found Norbert’s name by googling “Mexico Hurricane 2014″ and since that work, changing the search to “Mexico Hurricane 20o4″ got my Javier’s name. My flickr stream seems incomplete, I searched on “Hermit Trail” and got photos from a few trips (September 2004 was maybe 7 months after I started using it), I do not seem to have the photos from the trip there; the ones I do have have a date stamp of a month earlier (Did I do another trip before the backpack?? I seemed to remember taking pictures during the hike).

So the data sources are mixed, not the most well organized, but organized enough for me to connect the associative trails.

I like those kind of trails.

A small note on flickr I have been resorting to a URL hacking trip to replace yet another lost functionality. When you search on flickr or go into a set, the Old Flickr used to provide two icon sets of trails to explore the photos adjacent in the timeline; one was relative to the search or set, but it always provided a second set of trails in the timeline of the photo itself.

Now you just get the one relative to the search. Huh? Okay, I searched my photos for “Hermit Trail” and got four results.

When I click one of the results, the return URL looks like


and when I view the photo, I get at the bottom, the navigation to page through the search results, which is useful:

flickr search relative

But often when I find a photo, I am looking for other ones taken in the same time period, the same day, a few days earlier– I use the search to find a photo that I recall being near the event or memory I am searching for, but I like to then explore my own photo timeline relative to the search result.

Old flickr provided that, New flickr? Nah.

But I’m a dog with tricks. That stuff in the URL in/photolist-wr4D7-wr4sr-43XN-wr4xf provides a context used to define the navigation below the photo; simply hack that off the URL to go to the original photo page or


and then I get at the bottom to travel through my photo timeline relative to the image! Perfect.

flickr in time

This is a thing I use often, as my flickr photos really help me locate things that happened in the temporal vicinity of an image. So while flickr changes their functionality, with some knowledge and guesswork of reading URLs, I rise above being a platform pawn.

Maybe a knight.

So as this same kind of rain falls as it did 10 years ago, I can weave this all together from a pile of data scattered in various niches of the web.

As I sit dry, warm, drinking coffee, not shivering on the edge of hypothermia at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The Guts of the New StoryBox are Set

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Having found the perfect container for my new PirateBox, I now have the desired wiring in place (thanks to my friend Ken in Colorado) to operate what I will put into play soon as a new iteration of the 2011 Storybox.

What you see above is a new power supply, a rechargable dual port USB power pack (Ablelink from Amazon). The container is about 4 inches deep, and most power packs are about that size, but because the USB port sticks out of the end, it would make it impossible to close the back of the box (well it could be done with some wedging diagonally).

This new one is 2.8 inches square, so it leaves more room for a USB cable to plug in the back. Typically it is connected via a standard to mini USB to the TP-LINK 3020 router (right) that runs the PirateBox- turning it one and off was always done by the oldest method- pulling or inserting the cord.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

The new part is the wiring in the middle. Ken cut open the cable, and wired into the connection a small switch and an LED light. We thought about mounting the switch to the side, but realized it would make removing the parts trickier (I will likely need to remove the USB on the router to transfer files). The battery and router are attached with velcro.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Ken was clever with setting up the LED light. We thought of gluing it to the side of the router, but again, the removal would make that dicey. So he inserted it into a square piece of styrofoam, cut so it wedges itself in tight, and aims the light out the old camera’s aperture.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

So now, all I need to do is to flick the switch on, and it sends power from the battery to start up the PirateBox. It takes about a minute to start up; once that is done, I can pull up the slider switch on the old camera that sets it into bulb exposure mode. When I click the camera shutter, the aperture opens, and the LED light shines through.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

It’s neat, eh? Of course not critical, but I love the way the innards work now. Plus it will look more suspicious at airports.

So now the real work is to redesign the PirateBox web pages to fit the ideas I have for it as a StoryBox. I am hoping to skip trying to get PHP installed, I am curious if I can, but I get the idea that the tiny web server might end up trying to do too much, so I am looking to see how much I can do in HTML, JavaScript, Jquery, and maybe the built in python.

One thing I was intrigued by is running a wiki on the system – this would allow visitors to go beyond just uploading media, or looking at media, but to create content in the wiki out for the media. I found a really simple python wiki called MonkeyWiki and managed to install it. It offers a theming option that I will explore next.

I also want to redo the directory structure so I can again have nicely presented galleries of media. Last time, I did this through a process of offloading newly added content, processing the files (making thumbnails of images, converting any weird sound files to mp3) and creating some directory data in javascript form (JSON would be better, eh?). I’d like to see if I can learn some python to add more features, like a dynamic generated .pls file based on the uploaded audio files.

Also, I have an idea how to stage a mini database of prompt questions for uploading, some questions that will help people know what kind of media might be appropriate to put “in the box”.

The insides of the enclosure are ready, now I just need to shape the inside of the digital content. Looking forward to taking this on the road on my New Zealand trip later this month… a staging for something even bigger (shhhhhhhh).

Beyond Lies The Web

My mind works by strange associations, free formed links, connecting, unconnecting, often ending up in the neural equivalent of “page not found”. So on reading this tweet in the Connected Courses twitter flow:

the phrase “Beyond the LMS” led me to thinking of the fantasmic novel by Philip K Dick (openly available on the web) and had me spending 20 minutes remixing a cover of the book:


(with apologies to PKD fans, do you know what they call themselves?)

Because beyond the LMS, beyond all this stuff… is the open, free linking web, always has been.

Just watch out for those wubs, willya?

Driving Around Almost Four Corners

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

My return home Friday was a 10 day, 1500 mile loop originally planned to cross through all of the Four Corners States. Sorry Utah, I ended up cutting you out, but I still love your sandstone canyon lands.

This was somewhat of a dress rehearsal for a similar length drive I will take in mid October to get to Kamloops, BC for a start of a 4 month fellowship at Thompson Rivers University. This trip gave me chance to see how it feels behind the wheel for so long (the drive home is usually a long marathon, 520 miles stretched over 13 hours), but also to see how things worked packing gear without the camper shell on my truck.

Red Dog wants to roll open, as a big dog should. No boxes on his back.
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