Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

Created with the Bart Simpson Chalkboard Generator

Created with the Bart Simpson Chalkboard Generator (because I can)

This is the first in a series of posts meant as a guide for almost anyone to create a WordPress site that operates as a networked hub for content created elsewhere. This is the engine, the Jim Groom Syndication Bus that drives ds106, the Open Digital Storytelling course/community/space.

It is intended primarily for Connected Courses, which is intended to be offered in October-November 2014 as an open course in how to create open courses.

I have built several of these sites in the last few years, after learning how it works with ds106, such as ETMOOC (Educational Technology MOOC), Project Community (The Hague University of Applied Science), Harvard Future of Learning Institute, rmooc (Thompson Rivers University), and most recently Thought Vectors in Concept Space (UNIV 200 at VCU).

All of these sites are different, themes, pupose, kinds of syndicated content, but they are all are powered by WordPress and the Feed WordPress plugin. While I have written what I thought were extensive documentation posts, they tend to be full of gory detail for all of the custom coding I have done for each site.

For the purposes of sharing the basics, I am writing this series of posts as a guide that will not depend on any custom coding of template hacking; as an example, I will use the Connected Courses site itself as a model. You do not need to be a WordPress guru, you do not need to know PHP is.

To build one of these sites, you will need a self or institution hosted version of WordPress — you cannot do this on because we need a plugin not available there. If you do not have access to a place to do these, there is no finer option that Reclaim Hosting where you can register your own domain and get an entire server infrastructure for the crazy price of $12/year.

It will help to have some basic WordPress concepts (difference between posts and pages, tags and categories, how to install plugins). Or you can use the information here to help your local tech support to enable this functionality for your own site.

Connected Courses site

Connected Courses site

The folks at UC Irvine have already selected a lovely theme; I will walk through the steps I did to set it up for syndication, all steps I did via the WordPress dashboard. Much of the information I will write in the next few posts comes from a Skype conversation between myself and Howard Rheingold, which he kindly had transcribed.

Are you ready to be syndicating? Let’s go. Tentatively these are the steps (links will be added as they are written):

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes

Image Bending in Audacity



The frames of this gif (image data) were edited in audio editing software. It’s in the realm of glitch art as the effects created are largely unpredictable. It’s a matter of saving an image in an uncompressed format, importing into Audacity, applying an effect or two, and exporting back again.

I saw a link to it via a retweet by Hilary Mason

Brett Camper’s post on Data Bending With Audacity has a long list of examples. I was able to do it with both this post and a prior one by Antonio Roberts.

I started with a JPG of a photo rummaging around my desktop pictures, a photo of a cholla cactus I took maybe 10 years ago:


In Photoshop, I resized it to 800x600px and then exported it as a TIF image (as instructed) with these settings:

tiff options export

The pixel order (per channel RRGGBB) is the key thing… I am guessing.

In Audacity, you are going to actually import this TIFF via File -> Import -> Raw Data. I used these settings:


You then get an image file’s data inside an audio editor!

cholla audaicity

It’s not much to listen to:

From what I understand, you want to select everything after the first 5 seconds (which is supposedly the header data, meta data about the file), and then apply some effects. I did one effect at a time, exported, then did “undo” to try a different effect.

When you export the “audio”, make sure you use the same option for the import (I used “U-Law” and do not know what that is). Select “other uncompressed files” and hit the options button– set the headers to “RAW (headerless)” and the encoding options to “U-Law”:

export options

The file name will be something like cholla4260003b.raw but I changed the file extension to be “.tif” I could not open the files in Photoshop (errors on header information), but I could open them in Preview, and then save as JPG.

Here was some different variations I made in this quick foray

Using the Audacity Echo Effect, delay: 1 an delay factor 0.7

Using the Audacity Echo Effect, delay: 1 an delay factor 0.7

With Audacity high-pass filter effect

With Audacity high-pass filter effect

with Apple AU Matrix Reverb effect

with Apple AU Matrix Reverb effect

With wah-wah effect

With wah-wah effect

It’s pretty interesting to experiment with, I like the use of using software to edit a type of media it was not perhaps designed to work with. The fact you can import raw data says a lot about the approach to software by the folks that created Audacity.


The Day I Cried in a Canyon

A tweet from someone (sorry there goes my weak citation) led my to Mike Wesch’s Learning Worth Crying About:

For those of you who watched my most recent talk, Learning as soul-making, you know that I have become interested in moments of profound transformation and growth among students that I call “Learning worth crying about.” I came to this interest in the pursuit of a question that most of us professors care about, “How can I teach critical thinking?” And after realizing after some time that it is not so easily taught, I focused on how it might be learned. And after realizing it is not just an “it” to learn but a process to be practiced I focused on creating problems and projects through which it could be practiced. And then after realizing that it was not just a process but a complete change of being I started diving into the literature on student and human development and now sit buried (almost literally) in a pile of books on my desk which I voraciously read day after day trying to understand this most beautiful and complex process of how it is that we become who we are.

He has been seeking insights into this via surveys to the numerous (did he say like 10,000?) students he has taught over the years. Mike asks at the end for people to share their own big moments. I went right the place and time of my own (which will materialize somewhere below), but spent a well worth hour listen to his talk:

There are familiar pieces, the snake in New Guinea, the viral YouTube videos, but I had not followed as much his most recent work Smile Because it Happened— rather than previous Digital Ethnography projects of studying online culture, his students immersed themselves into a culture by living a semester in a retirement home.

But in the video above, Mike is digging into the importance of teaching beyond all the things we are used to addressing, to a whole new plane of human meaning. He even jokes about “bow do you assess soul-making? Is there a multiple choice assessment tool?”

This calls out at me, because after having spent 20 years in higher education in the educational technology space, with my scattered opportunities the last few years, I find what I really seek is to teach, and attempt some of that soul making “stuff”. I have had some whiffs of that experience, and think I can do more.

An obstacle to getting there is the very thing I left behind that day in the canyon.

Three letters.

“P”, “h”, and “D”.

But leaving those behind was essential to where I am now.

It’s as they say… complicated. And will unroll as a long blog post. If you want more dog stories or web stuff, click next.

I watched Mike’s presentation, while searching through my boxes of old photo albums, field notebooks, even my address books trying to find the context of that period in Autumn, 1991. But to get there, I have to wind the story clock back a bit further.

Way back. I liked school the learning from memorable teachers. I pretty much figured out early how to skate through, how to take tests and write papers that teachers reacted to positively. Im high school I found I absorbed enough in class to ace tests, and scratched my head when hearing my class mates talk about studying all night for exams.

University education brought more work and effort, but it was on the same trajectory; I had the methods down. As an undergraduate I felt more blended in the crowd, but getting to Arizona State University as a Masters student in Geology (1987) it finally felt less about passing tests, but still, the performing on writing still counted a lot.

The department was small, and it was inevitable you got to know most everybody, I camped with them on field exercises, played softball on the weekends, climbed mountains, snuck into abandoned mines looking for minerals, drank beer at professors house. I finished a masters, and not really seeing much excitement in seeking a job, fell into the flow of continuing in the PhD program.

Why not become an academic? I did not know much else.

A new professor came to the department, one with a big reputation, researcher. Despite the reputation, she was very approachable as a teacher, and had that quality of giving students a lot of direct feedback. Her first class really got me interested enough to ask her to be my advisor. I cannot say I had a strong sense of a research direction, but that’s what advisors help with?

In out conversations, she stressed a lot of things I had not heard before- the importance of writing to be understood, the role of a scientist as a public communicator. But she also shared some of her personality in a fashion I had not experienced before- the challenges she faced as a woman in a mail dominated field, details of a marriage breaking up, things with her children.

Looking back, I see myself at 26 as so uninformed about life and relationships and experiences, and did not even now much of this concept of sharing one’s vulnerabilities. So it seemed somewhat odd, but more than that, it was a huge amount of trust I felt put into me, a kind I had not experienced in academia before.

Two years go by. I focus more into a research project, we spend a year it seems writing it up for the major journal in the field. It is published, I am sure a lot on the stature of my advisor. I write up proposals in the way ones, is supposed to do, and I pass my oral exams.

I am about halfway to getting a PhD, I just need to do another research project, and write it up. And its through my advisor’s connections in the Spring of 1991 I have lined up an internship with colleagues at Los Alamos, where I will do some field mapping and some computer simulations (it has to do with the how explosive volcanic ash clouds move through topographic channels).

Los Alamos is, to generalize, a weird kind of place. Let’s just say it has a high concentration of very intelligent scientists on a high remote plateau, with the atmosphere of high powered government funded research. So it was somewhat a relief I spent a lot of the time out in the canyons, trying to understand some of the history of the large volcanic eruptions that created the landscape there.

I did not manage to find many photos- I was shooting mostly slide film in those days, and I dumped many of the slides after I left geology. But the landscape looked a lot like this photo in nearby Bandelier National Monument


And here is where my memory confuses me.

It gets to a point where I get very frustrated with (a) not at all understanding the geology I was trying to understand (self doubt about my skills); (b) realizing I was moving down a road of being a specialist in a field where there were maybe 100 colleagues around the world (over-specialized); and mostly (c) losing all of the drive and passion I had for Geology that was there since 1982.

I do know for sure that one day all of this uncertainty about my future, the loss of confidence, had my crying in a lonely canyon in New Mexico. It was maybe the second time in my life (I had some fairytale childhood) of deep internal crisis.

Other things where in the mix. Before coming to Los Alamos in June, the woman I was dating had ended our relationship (maybe the third time had dissolved up until then) (we then rekindled while I was in New Mexico) (we later got married) (we much much later got divorced).

The woman from whom I was renting a room in Los Alamos got more than landlady friendly, but when I pulled away because of my interest in my Arizona relationship– well it got really weird, then ugly. I literally grabbed my stuff in two hours and left two weeks before I was done in Los Alamos, then staying with another friend in town.

So this 6 month experience to me has this giant cloud of uncertainty, but I think my memory is weighed heavily on that one day of canyon crying. It turns out I have a lot of documentation– I found my field notes, at least this book was labeled Bandelier Notes II, and has some 170 pages of sketches, measurements, and notes like this:


I imagined I would find among my section descriptions and calculations of maximum lithic fragment size I would find some mention of my internal struggles.

But none is there. I even can patch together timelines, as I have my old calendar books. No heart pourings there, but I can at least trace comings and goings (thought I have no idea why on October 21 I was contacting someone about a haunted house)


Yet, it is cemented in mind this day of crying in a canyon. It was likely in August or September, the fieldwork wound down once it started getting cooler. I know it happened because of what made my life pivot.

You see the woman I was dating in Arizona was getting her degree in counseling, but had a perception of understanding beyond just a school program. I know I talked to her about this huge uncertainty. I remember she had me sit down with a piece of paper, a line down the middle. As an exercise, she told me on one side to write down all the things I really liked doing as a graduate student and on the other side the opposite (I was sure I still had that paper in my files, but cannot locate it. But believe me, it was real).

And the item that stood out on the “like” side the most, which I circled, was one I would not have guessed on my own– teaching. And that was from my experience as a TA in Geology.

It was through this, the frustration in a canyon, the realization that I lost the passion to be a research academic, that I had realized in early 1992 I needed to leave the PhD program, a few clicks short of ABD. I knew I could have jumped through all the hoops to get the doctorate, but did not have it in me. It did not feel right to do it just because I could do it.

What I had facing then was to tell my advisor, she who had done so much to support me as a grad student, making opportunities, finding internships, funding conference trips out of her research grants. I had, and still carry this terribly large dread of letting people down. But it was her trust in me in what she shared earlier, that told me I had to just tell her. That she might understand.

I remember the pit in my stomach of that meeting, but also, and more so, the total support/understanding she gave me. There was no acrimony, no guilt, no trying to talk me out of it. I was not expecting total support, though I do not know why. It was almost easy to be honest.

My plan was to get a certification to teach secondary school science. ASU had a post-bac program, I got accepted, and I could finish it in a year. And in maybe March 1992, I was at the district office of the community colleges, since I needed a part time job, and thought I could find a part time teaching job in Geology.

The irony was I was in the wrong place (those positions are done at the individual colleges). But while in the HR office, I saw a full time position listing for something called a “programmer analyst / instructional systems”. I thought, “I did most of that, and have teaching experience, why not?”

That job application was, at the time, a huge long shot. I am still not 100% sure why they hired me as I was greener than green. But they did, and I went to Maricopa, and discovered a love of programming, media creation, found the web… and 20 years hence, here I am.

Whether my memories are clouded or not precise is not the point. I do know for sure, when the tears came in that canyon, even if they were for 30 seconds, that I was at a career precipice, and needed to either stay on the PhD horse or get off of it.

And while not having a PhD right now may make it hard/impossible for me to find a perch as a teacher, it was without a doubt, the smartest thing I did.

It was self soul making. And for all my uncertainty penned in by an outer shell of false confidence, I owed so much for those who showed me abundant care, and love, and willingness to teach me about being vulnerable.

Even if I have no clue about avunculocal residence patterns, Mike, I did have a book level grasp on the fluid dynamics of supersonic flow in a narrow channel.

Or not.

But it was all on the path to this moment- and all that comes after.

13 Years MC Fudge

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

She was perhaps the dog I’ve lived with who had the best disposition. My ex got a dog for her kids before I moved in; Fusge came from the pound, a chocolate lab / doberman mix. I think the kids tacked on the “MC” in front of her intended name (for her obvious colors).

Thanks to the bits of my Mom’s annual calendar that are now my Google calendar, I get a reminder that she passed away this day in 2001.

I remember taking Fudge on runs (me on a bicycle) so she would not be so energetic for a kids sleepover. I remember camping in the woods up here not too far from where I live now. I remember her being a good companion to Dominoe when I moved in. I remember her once eating a whole bowl of raw shrimp sitting in the sink, and a few times eating a crater out of a tray of brownies.

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

I remember a backpack trip in the Superstition Wilderness with my friend Uwe, who brought his dog, Husky. That poor dog ended up with blisters on his pad, and Uwe carried him out the last few miles. Fudge? She walked out solidly.

I remember her just always happy to see you. I remember her muzzle growing grey with age.

I remember the summer of 2001, when we noticed she stopped eating. I remember the vet describing the advanced cancer that had engulfed her stomach. I remember that dog not showing one indication of what had to be severe pain.

I do not feel like I really remember nearly enough. These memories are shreds, fragments, faded photos.

Here’s a raised paw to you, MC Fudge, a Dog among dogs.

Picture This

Today I had the opportunity to open the Arizona K12 Center’s Ninth Camp Plug and Play in Tucson. About I year ago, I sort of “crashed” their mobile learning conference here– I came down to visit colleagues Dean Shareski and Wes Fryer. Shortly after I got a super nice email from Tony Vincent, leading to this year’s invitation.

This talk was more or less a breeze through five “things” I’ve done around using/creating with images:

It’s easy to take and share digital snapshots (witness Facebook). But we can do much more than capturing moments by creating and expressing ourselves using photographs as part of our visual language. While I was educated as a scientist and self taught myself web-development, telling stories with and through photos is what I am most passionate about. In this session, I share with you five things I’ve done fueled by this interest. These include practicing communication through improvisation, creating stories in pictures only, amazing stories that may happen when you share photos, giving credit for photos you can use, and a strategy for expressing complex ideas or concepts in photos. Maybe one will be interesting to you? Picture that.

Listen to audio recording of presentation

The five things include:

  • improv with pechaflickr
    kudos to participants Nick and Adria (“like Adrian form Rocky without the ‘n’”) for doing a great improv talk on nachos
  • Visual Storytelling with Five Card Flickr Stories
    maybe the fastest demo I’ve ever tried, pretty much just ran one quick round
  • True Stories of Sharing Photographs
    Told the usual favorite, the Amazing Flower Story but did a quick recap of the others in the set; this eas also a chance to talk about how giving credit for use of a photo as a set up for the next item
  • Giving Attribution with flickr cc attribution helper
    I tried to make a case that being asked to give attribution has all the appeal of writing citations and bibliographies in a paper, plus that the way we mostly talk about creative commons is wrapped in language of not giving attribution is “lying” “stealing”, and “plagiarizing” — as in

    Whereas to me, giving attribution is an act of appreciation, acknowledgment, of paying it forward.I showed how writing a model attribution for a flickr photo was about a seven step process, hence the reason for the flickr attribution tool was… selfish.

  • Image Seeking for Fantastic Visual Metaphors
    This was a teaser for my evening workshop, the new teaching kit on an image searching strategy I created for Mozilla’s Teach the Web program.

This was a really energetic group, and i had a lot of fun playing with them.

Thanks Tony.

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

In the evening I was asked to run an optional workshop– this was ImageSeeking

image seek plug and play

Photos and images are the building blocks of most digital expression. We are well past the place of cheap clip art, and have easily accessible more images than we can imagine. Learning how to find images is trivial when you are looking for a specific thing. But when you are trying to find images to represent something metaphorically or more complex (e.g. how do you look for an image to represent “honesty” or “unfairness”?) keywords often fail because these are not literal concepts. In this workshop you will use ImageSeek, built in the free Mozilla Thimble Tool, for not only helping you and your students deploy a more oblique strategy for finding images, but also a way to save and share the process.

Since my Mozilla Teaching kit is remixable, I remixed my own stuff. The workshop materials were a remix of the original teaching kit. Within it, the first activity was a remix of the Image Finding Discussion Activity, etc.

It was quite illustrative to remix my own materials, it made it quite easy to customize them for the workshop.

It ended up more discussion, we had a chance to hear how people search (not everyone reaches for google first); one participant shared the roflbot site which she uses to add attribution to the image she finds.

This was the first chance I asked a group to use the ImageSeek tool and manipulate it in Thimble. I have to admit, as noted in a comment from Robin Good, that it’s a bit complicated to use. Folks had trouble navigating to the right areas to edit, in my demo the scrolling links in the tutorial pane made the code vanish, one participant followed me instructions and all of the line number links were different…

Everyone appreciated the approach, the use of the framing questions, and the idea of keeping a record of your effort, but it seems like its too much overhead to do it all in the Thimble app. I am not surprised, it did seem a tad complicated, but hey, it was an experiment. The idea of searching for metaphors still holds up.

I hope.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by quinn.anya

Through the Heart, Facebook

With a DELETE stake, that is:

Modified from Public Domain Wikimedia Commons image; Facebook logo? Sue me.

Modified from Public Domain Wikimedia Commons image; Facebook logo? Sue me.

The real question is– can one really kill the Beast?

This is not a reaction to the uproar over the Facebook leaked “research”. I kind of feel that if you can have your emotions manipulated by a Facebook timeline, you have much bigger issues to deal with.

I just do not like Facebook. (Get it?)

I’ve flipped them the bird for being stingy with media. I’ve growled about their literal sucking of your data. I’ve done what I could to neutralize it’s reach. I’ve tried to torque it’s methods by Liking Everything. Then I tried Liking Nothing.

When it comes down to to it, weighing what I get out of Facebook (over the last year, I found myself doing more flipping through the feeds, to get a sense about what other people post) versus what I do…. well the latter was poor. I did get to see more info from some cousins than I normally would. I had some fun leaving snarky comments. I did start a group for the diabetic summer camp I attended as a kid, and saw that grow to over 200 people, and briefly rekindled some connections.

My original intent for joining was to understand it more. I think I have that accomplished. There was a time when I was at NMC that I need an account to authenticate some site against. No need for that.

I find the amount of connectivity broad but really shallow, infrequent. When I leave a comment on someone’s status, I get piles of notifications that other people that I do not know wrote something in the same thread. I find that not very useful because most of the time, I do not know them and what they write has little relevance to mine.

So tonight, while at dinner here at the hotel in Tucson where I speak tomorrow at a conference– I decided, why not kill it? I explored the options via my mobile app, and saw the link to deactivate the account.


That’s my message.

Then it was really nice to delete the app- I expect much better battery life.


Alas, I was not done yet.

So back in my room, I had to log on again. Just by doing that, Facebook right away re-activated my account.

Let’s be clear- Facebook makes it really hard to delete an account, and you really have no confidence they did, but they will reinstate you faster than a gnat’s fart.

There is no link or button on your Facebook settings to delete your account. I had to search for it — for your reference, here is the direct URL

On every other social media site, there is a simple “delete account” button on your preferences or settings pages. Facebook throughs you three paragraphs of verbiage. It took a while to find the right link in there:


Note there is no hypertext that reads “delete my account” — it is “let us know”.

Oh, look how nice they are, you can download your information! That might be a nice thing to know what they know.

Except they ask you do let them do something before just giving you your data:

facebook download

To download your data, you actually have to tell them to collect it? WTF? They have your data– just provide a direct link.

No thanks. My facebook data has zero value to me.

Look how easy they make it, once you commit. See how easy they make it? Just a simple unreadable captcha

delete it daminit

I got lucky, I figured it out on one try.

But there is goes, right in the heart.


Unless I am moronic enough to log in (doubtful).

Regardless of their ethics, their every shifting privacy settings, their incessant hoarding of data… the very fact that Facebook makes it this freaking hard to leave tells me that there is something foul smelling in the basement and I don’t want anything to do with it.

That how thing of “Everybody is there?” has no weight. There is bigger place, without restrictions on letting you exit– where everyone is. It’s called The Open Internet.

Or even bigger, The World.

I feel rather at peace.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by danncer

2 Stories, 2 External Services, 2 Lost, 2 Found

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

It’s not as much a spirit of web reclaiming as much as a preference for writing on the web that this my primary space. But is is a spirt of the way I like to understand web technology to try stuff.

So much later than most, a few weeks ago I gave the writing environment of medium a try. I decided to take something I had written five years ago, and do it as a rewrite.

I have to admit I enjoyed the minimal editing interface. There’s no mondo toolbar like Word, and much less than WordPress. It’s just writing, and if you hilite text, minimal formatting

medium formatting

The lead image becomes the title page, and the small amount of text on the main screen makes you think about the lead in to the story. I took the original opening to my story, and found it tried to explain to much, plus there was no strong pull. SO I cut it way down. Went lean.

Each time you start a new paragraph, you have have an option to add media- images, video, or anything else with an embed- again, with a minimal tool thing that disappears.

medium media

You can make the images be in line with the text, or spread across the page (hello parallax) and even with an overlay of text.

Unlike most systems, there is not a compose/preview/compose/preview cycle — you see it all as you write.

I was liking it. Two hours went by, and I found myself doing a lot of re-writing to what feels now like awkward and uneven writing (the original was a blog post).

And then something happened.

There was an image I decided to change, and I selected it, clicked the delete key. I recall some sort of dialog box, confirming flying by (and I was feeling tired), but next thing I was back on the medium home page.

Everything was GONE. I tried undo, back page clicking.



I went to sleep.

Last week, I had a curious incident prompt me for a story. I was feeling done with medium, and decided to give it a go in Cowbird because I saw it as a rich mixture of image and text. I’ve written maybe 130 pieces there (another half done project sites there half done).

I’m familiar with Cowbird, and having joined as a Citizen, I was using its features to write multipage stories. It too is simple, again forces you to focus on the writing, not some interface or some pile of wiki codes you have to memorize (sorry Mike). I went to save my story and…


Sorry, but there was an error saving your story.

Sorry? Sorry? WTF? What kind of error? How helpful is that?

I retried. Same result.

I read the FAQ, it said to copy the text of the story, and try a new one.

Same result.

Now with medium and cowbird piling on me, I am wondering WHY THE _________ I WOULD WRITE ANYTHING ON A THRDY PARTY SITE.

I am 0 / 2.

How about these for hints.

Google Reader. Posterous. Pownce. Orkut. xtranorml. Jumpcut.

I could have done both of these stories right here.

What to do?

Of course! Complain!

I got a faint reply from medium asking if I checked my history. History? I was thinking that since I never saved there was no history.

Then I heard from cowbird that they got my message and were looking into it.

And yesterday, just out of curiosity, I wen back to medium, and had never noticed the slide out menu on the left, when you click the logo. There was an item called “Drafts”. I clicked.

And there was my draft. All of it.

Damn. PEBKAC. And I am up to 1 / 2.

Then I got an email from Bryan Alexander asking why I posted the same story to cowbird three times. How was that? The site said there was an error saving.

I went to cowbird and checked. Indeed, there were three copies of my story in the published pile. But all of them were missing the four photos I had added. So I deleted two of them, and re-edited the remaining one to add back the photos. Save.

Damn, same error.

So I let it lie. For 2 days.

And today, I was able to re-insert my images, and save the cowbird story. Bingo!, 2 / 2.

After all, that.. what about the **##$ stories?

Of course. Aloneness / Loneliness, published on medium recaps my experience spending a month in Iceland in 2008, alone dog/house sitting, but pretty isolated. It was originally written in November 2008 as a caption to a flickr photo.

Let’s see how the embed works…

Aloneness / Loneliness

Note: This is not an embed of my story; it is an embed of a graphic link to my story. Bad medium.

The shape of it is the same, but I did a lot of rewording, introduced a few more elements (and photos), and mostly moved from describing a series of events with a tad of reflection to being much more reflective (I hope so).

The process of re-writing was illuminating; I had a chance to look back on the experience with a lot more life gone by. And I can see un doing this how much my writing style has changed (except for the typos, that is consistent).

The second story, now published in cowbird, is Ascribing Cause. This came from a night last week when a cabinet in my kitchen spontaneously fell from the wall and smashed my dishes to tiny shards. I had been standing right in front of it a few minutes earlier– and cannot recall exactly what compelled me to move.

Note: This does embed the cowbird in vertical scrolling form. Cowbird trumps medium in this department.

In the time since I wrote it and thought it gone, and returning back, I re-edited a lot of the dialogue and tried to move away from cliche phrases. Again, having the time to re-compose makes the story much better.

I think it does.

Is this where I say something about all being well / ending well? There are features I like in both writing environments. And I have a back struggle with the idea of my story being elsewhere. My blog is in its 11th year and there is no reason to worry about it not being there in the future. These other services? Could be gone in a snap.

But I also had a chance here to rework a story a few times, and can see how much more work I could have done there.

Stories…. Lost, Found, Published.

James Dog: You Only Bark Twice

Dusting off some ds106 poster riffing. I guess there as some fun banter about remixing james bond posters with some dogs we know, Mariana was off and running with it… But she let me down by not making it an assignment.

So I had to step in with The Best Bond Is A Dog:

All thanks to a conversation on Twitter. An emergent DS106 assignment ‘Remix (in a dog appropriate manner) a Bond movie title and create a poster’.

Hence, Daphne Groom, in the classic “You Only Bark Twice”

(you ought to click to see 00Daphne in full size glory)

(you ought to click to see 00Daphne in full size glory)

I decided to give Daphne some more dog pride that she gets in this photo of Miles and Tessie with that poor dog in a tutu!

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

I liked the 1960s motif of the poster from You Only Live Twice, appropriate since it features Jim’s favorite Bond actor ;-) There is something parallel about Bond surrounded by the ladies in Bikinis and the way Daphne is surrounded on the photo.

The PhotoShoppery was the usually amount of clone brush, paste in place. I even managed to tint Tessie’s hands a bit to match the skin of the others. I tossed in a pic of Jim in his stunning suit from the TEDx in Puerto Rico just to cover up Sean Connery. That was first time I used the Edit Special-> Past Around to make something come in outside of a selection, that worked well.

Gill Sans Ultra Bold, squeezed and stretched a bit, did a good job of faking the poster text. Normally I go to the detail of editing the producer and director credits, but this is enough for one night’s poster re-editing.

You Only Bark Twice!

Reading Bandits


I cannot claim as ambitious a summer reading agenda as Jim Groom, but somehow I have managed to finish an unprecedented two novels in the last 3 weeks.

Both were titles I picked up at one of the book sales from the Pine Arizona Library; first was David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green; I grabbed that only because of how much I enjoyed reading Cloud Atlas (oh wait, I have a report on that one when I read it in 2011). I could not put it down, but that’s another post. I did jump a connection in talking about why zombies bore me.

I had never read Elmore Leonard before, and likely picked it up out of curiosity/respect when he passed away last summer. And this is by no means a literary review or plot summary… but here goes. The story takes place in new Orleans and has a central ex-con, Jack Delaney as primary character. At first he was just a bit too perfect, former jewel thief, could have been model, a bit wry, obviously a ladies man, and he ends up getting involve with a beautiful ex-nun and a plot to steal money from some bad people.

But what I found in reading this book is how Leonard really does not stick to the expected plot lines, there are twists turns, the obvious romance never happens, and it is more dialogue then action. And as described in a New York Times review, it really is more about the characters than the action:

But it will do. Mr. Leonard has got his usual diverting cast of grifters and creeps up his sleeve and action as Byzantine as ever Chandler himself thought up. In fact, reading it, I felt like William Faulkner when he was writing the screenplay for the film version of Chandler’s novel “The Big Sleep.” The story is that he had to call up Chandler to find out what was going on. Chandler wasn’t sure.

Yes, it will do.

Letting the Characters Do It

“Most thrillers,” says Elmore Leonard, “are based on a situation, or on a plot, which is the most important element in the book. I don’t see it that way. I see my characters as being most important, how they bounce off one another, how they talk to each other, and the plot just sort of comes along.” In fact, Mr. Leonard is so comfortable allowing his characters to control the pace and action of his stories that he didn’t know how “Bandits” would end until three days before he finished it last April.

And without giving anything away, the story could have ended in at least 4 or 5 different ways and still be satisfying. And you find out that the key character on which it all turns is not the one you have been following for most of the book.


What I found enjoyable is how deep and genuine (as far as I can tell) Leonard gets to the setting of New Orleans outside of the stereotypes. He paints that tension of locals versus tourists:

Out on Bourbon Street bumping into each other, the whole bunch of them aimless, probably thinking, this is it, huh? The street a midway of skin shows and tacky novelty shops. The poor guys at Preservation Hall and other joints playing that canned Dixieland, doing “When the Saints” over and over for the tourists in the doorways. There was some good music around, if Al Hirt was in town or you found a group with Bill Huntington playing his standup bass or Ellis Marsalis somewhere. His boy Wynton had left town with his horn to play for the world.

That reference jumped me back to a trip in 2008 for a conference at Tulane, and my local colleague/friend Marie took me to a place called Snug Harbor, and saw not only Ellis Marsalis, but the youngest son, Jason, too.

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

Well written setting and a swirl of characters, none too sure who is quite the good guys… all for a good read.

I wonder what is next?

Free #thoughtvectors Inquiry Project Idea Available

Public Domain image "Space-Tech Lab. QA-118-REG balanced vacuum tube pre-amplifier with tube rectifier and tube regulator" from Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain image “Space-Tech Lab. QA-118-REG balanced vacuum tube pre-amplifier with tube rectifier and tube regulator” from Wikimedia Commons

In scanning the Thoughtvectors blogs and twitter stream, a lot of students/participants are well on their way starting their Inquiry Projects.

But should anyone be in search of one, I have one I started a while ago, that is free for anyone to run with. It is almost a year since last reporting on the 60,000 Times Question Remains Unanswered:

Back in May I wrote about trying to locate the source of a statement that is repeated so much, I had heard it, and accepted it as something that somewhere had a research basis- it is some variation of:

Research at 3M Corporation concluded that we process visuals 60000 times faster than text.

This is a statement that has been repeated so often on web sites, presentations, the web sites of exerpts on visual communciations, published books and articles — go ahead and google it — 42,000 hits on that exact phrase — that it takes on the allure of truth.

Or truthiness.

Except one problem.

One small problem.

There is (as far as I can tell form a lot of looking) no reliable source of that research.

Here is the problem with citations. They look concrete. A typical citation for this assertion is:

3M Corporation research cited in “Polishing Your Presentation.” 3M Meeting Network Articles & Advice (2001) [Online Article]. Available:

Except there is one problem. If you actually read that document, it is really a brochure, and the research cited is mentioned in that document as

Did you know that visual aids have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent? Did you realize that we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text? Would you guess that the average person only remembers about a fifth of what they hear?

These findings from behavioral research confirm our daily experience: we rely on all our senses to bring ideas and concepts to life. Effective presenters today realize that preparing to take the podium means more than having your index cards in order. As photos, illustrations, graphs and text make their way into presenters’ toolboxes, audiences are coming to expect impressive visual aids. However, high-quality images aren’t the whole story. Visuals should support you, not replace you. Use them instead to shed light on your key messages and capture the audience’s interest.

So the research is never cited, it is only vague inferred. So if you provide a citation to a source that does not provide the reference, how valid is that?

After all this time, I do not believe it exists. I have even put money on the table as a bet

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by Its.MJ

Yes, I offered a cash prize of $60 to anyone that can produce the research behind the claim. That money remains un-earned.

But the inquiry is not as much the pursuit of the answer, but more into a question of how does one counter a claim that is repeated so much that people accept it as truth?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Kalexanderson

For a parallel example of faulty / wrong information repeated so much that it’s accepted as truth, see the debunking of Dale’s Cone of Experience. This is a fascinating challenge in an ecosystem of abundant, unchecked information.

Any takers?

My research trails to date:

$60 could be yours!