Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Special Twitter Message

On Monday, I made my 1000th twit, or it is tweet? Anyway, I left my 1000th entry on Twitter. I am not sure what this makes me. A very shallow person who lives life through 140 characters or less? Someone who has a lot to say about almost nothing? I guy who enjoys the weak ties to other people in a very non committed way? Maybe I am a little of all of these things, or maybe none of them. I don’t know.

I like Twitter a lot. I really feel connected to others in a way that I have never been before. My own personal world is very small. I have a great family and a great job. That is my circle. I rarely go out for any social experiences. I don't belong to any groups, and the number of real life friends I have is small. I don't think I consciously made a choice for this to happen, it is simply the way your personal reality becomes when you settle down and start a family.

Twitter has allowed me to expand my social circle in a way that I had not imagined before my first Twit. Twitter has become important to me personally and professionally. My day is not complete unless I have checked it 20- 30 times and made at least 10 good entries. So I have developed my own way of seeing the proper use of Twitter. I try to not be angry or upset a lot on Twitter. It happens, but I do try to limit it. Everyone thinks it is funny when you lose it over something stupid like not being able to make your own Mac and Cheese, but no one wants a constant barrage of negativity.

I think it is only polite that if someone follows you that you take the time to check them out and follow them back. Unless they are some front for spam, or they are mindless twitterers who post the top 100 mundane things they do each day. I like a wide variety of things and love to hear differing points of view. I don't want to hear people rant, or see the ugliness out there. I can block users that I simply don't approve of, but if for some reason, they are trying for a world record of peop to follow, I'll keep them but just not return the follow. That is my choice. I am currently following 100 people and being followed by 84. I would like the numbers to be even, but it is ok this way, I don't worry about the numbers. I think the give and take is much more important.

I like it when people share ideas, links, and cool things on the web. I like to share back when someone needs help, or maybe a laugh. This is the exchange that makes Twitter feel like a community and a conversation. This is what attracted me.

I don't like it when people preach from the mountain top. I don't want to follow people who don't think that I am good enough to hear from. I don't believe that is what the new social web is all about. If I want to be treated that way, I can just watch TV. There are plenty of people on TV who will be happy to talk down to me.

The other day one of my fellow Twitter friends shared a post from David Jakes called, Tragedy of the Commons. Mr. Jakes’ post upset me very much, but even so, I refuse to comment on his blog. I have even waited to respond for six days because it has bothered me so much. This is the part that summed up the entire post for me-

"In my opinion, Twitter really has also changed how some people interact, and not in a positive way. When did the defacto standard greeting at a conference become “Hi, I follow you on Twitter.” How about “Good Morning?” Then, “But you don’t follow me.” Gee, sorry, not my responsibility…"

I had never heard of Mr. Jakes before I read this blog entry, but the post bothers me because it seems that this man is making a living being some sort of education and technology guru. He has 921 followers on Twitter and only 78 are important enough for him to follow in return, and with the statement above, it really seems to me that he simply does not care enough to fake concern for the people who probably help to put food on his table. He comes across as an educational technology elitist. I hope that is not really the way he is because I don't think that is the type of person who should be influencing others.

If I was following him, which I am not, and never will now, I would block him. I know he wouldn't care, because I am nobody. I am unimportant in the world of instructional technology, or anywhere else really. But that's ok, my dog likes me. If he can disregard us nobody Twitterers, I can certainly return the favor. I might be throwing out lots of good stuff with the one bad thing I came across, but I will take that chance.

There are plenty of other people who can at least pay me the compliment of faking that I could be important to them. Will Richardson passed along an article that I sent him. That one small thing made me feel pretty good. Sylvia Martinez and I actually had a conversation once when she responded to my blog. I thought that was really cool. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is someone that I have worked with, well I should clarify, we have held the same position (computer resource specialist) in the same school division, we have talked, and she has always been nice to me. The point here is that maybe I am a nobody to these other educational technology leaders, but at least they have the manners enough to not come right out and say it.

Who knows, maybe this was just Mr. Jakes plan to drum up conversation on his blog. If so, maybe it worked in the short term. He has 60 responses to this one blog entry. Will this increase his following? Not with this one little nobody. I really don't need anyone to poke me with a stick and point out that I don’t matter. That is simply not the positive experience I am looking for in life.

Don't worry Mr. Jakes, if I ever have the opportunity to ever meet you, I will not say, "Hi, I follow you on Twitter. But you don’t follow me.”

But I will say, Good day to you, Sir!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Arena

I went to Northern Virginia this past weekend to attend my niece's and nephew's birthday party at Pump It Up. Going anywhere outside of the house it is just not possible for me to leave without taking a bunch of electronic gizmos. This weekend I took a Flip Camera. I decided to use the Flip Camera because I had purchased it for school but did not have a chance to use it for any projects and it needed a test run.

The party was held at a local Pump it Up. If you have never been to Pump It Up, imagine a warehouse with giant inflatable bouncy things. Bouncy basketball, bouncy obstacle course and bouncy arena.

I normally try not to get in on the bouncy things because I play as hard as the kids and I sweat like a pig. After play time the group goes into a birthday cake area and then I end up looking like a freak who just ran a marathon. This time my son challenged me to Joust, and with my wife's encouragement, I decided to teach the boy a lesson!

I imported the video and edited it with Movie Maker. I tried to use the Flip software but I couldn't make it do what I wanted fast enough, so I switched to Movie Maker. I had to add the theme music for the Star Trek battle theme because I did my Cable Guy imitation at the beginning.

I suppose I should say that the Flip Camera is incredibly easy to use, and it is pretty tough. I would recommend it for anyone who wants quick and simple video capture. I am looking forward to more creative projects with it soon! I might even let the kids use it...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why I Love S.O.L.'s

The Standards of Learning Testing Season is fast approaching. All over the state of Virginia teachers are busily drilling kids with the vitally important information that the state has said they must know. Questions like, who made the first American flag? Every American knows the answer, Betsy Ross. Except that is not exactly true. History is funny that way. You can check yourself, if you like...

I bring this up because I passed a 3rd grade class in the hall the other day and there was a teacher with a handful of test questions quizing her kids as they waited to use the bathroom. I stopped for a second to join in and answer a question about George Washington Carver. Then came the Betsy Ross question. Immediately, I knew that Betsy Ross was not the answer (I am a History Channel addict). I looked at the teacher and she at me and then she quickly whispered, "Don't say it. That is not on the the test." I was shocked.

That reminded me of this little video on YouTube. I tried to embed the YouTube beneath (direct link).

Isn't it important to teach kids the truth? Or is it more important to teach what is on the test?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Walter Mitty? Not quite.

I have always identified myself with the character Walter Mitty from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Danny Kay. The short story is nice too, but I love Danny Kaye, and the movie is so much better.

If you are not familiar with the story, it is about a man with a normal life and an abnormal ability to have heroic daydreams. Any real world event can trigger a fantasy with Mr. Mitty as the star who saves the day.

I am not quite the daydreamer that Mr. Mitty was, but I have an annoying habit of making up stories about my own life that sound surprisingly like movies that I have seen. My kids hate that. We will be watching a movie as a family and I will start off with, "You know, that is a lot like how your mom and I met. You remember honey... I was the super strong super hero, and you were the free wheeling stretchy girl. Battling villains side by side. But then we were forced to settle down and hide out, never revealing our secret identities to anyone. Remember that sweetheart (in case you are wondering, I am describing The Incedibles)?" By this time all three of my kids are yelling at me to stop.

This is wonderful entertainment to me. Sometimes I will mix stories together like, An Officer and a Gentleman and Top Gun and see if I can confuse my wife who tries to keep up with me. This little game of mine can come into play at anytime, and any place. Outsiders overhearing this storytelling will surely think I have lost my senses, maybe they are right, but I will continue this game. It has nothing to do with me being unsatisfied with my life. I have a wonderful life. I just think telling these stories is funny.

Knowing this about myself, it is shocking to find out that I am having the hardest time understanding Second Life. There are few rules and you can be whatever you want to be. Yesterday I met a lady in SL named Pearl. I just started talking to her, and she being the more experienced SL'er, recognized that I was a noobie. Soon she just starting giving me stuff. Clothes, skins, hair and even some bling. She was very into having me change my look. I must admit to feeling just a little like a dress up doll. It was nice that she helped me but my outward appearance is not very important to me, even in SL.

My real life is filled with fantasy, but Second Life has none? Shouldn't it be the other way around? I suppose the real problem is that I insist on labeling the experience instead of just accepting it as it is.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Free Day

This morning I woke with a mission. It was going to be a beautiful day and I wanted out of the house. My wife Amy, and our daughter Savannah, were leaving for Richmond to have a girl’s day at my step mom’s house. The only problem was that I had no plan. Amy is the planner of the family and left up to me the day could be full of nothing. Today must be different. And cheap.

As a family we have committed to go to Disney World this summer. This is going to be a real stretch for us financially, but we are doing it because it is going to be fun (WARNING- link is NSFW or sensitive ears, audio file from Vacation, one of favorite lines of all time. I just couldn’t resist.). To prepare for our family vacation we have agreed to cut back on spending.

After Amy hit the road she called back to say that “The Point,” a local radio station, was giving away Busch Gardens tickets in the Haygood area. Bingo! The mission was set. Swag hunt.

First stop was some small auto shop in the Haygood area. Sam and Calvin both a got a cool hat from NAPA auto parts, I got a free oil change coupon, a $5 Starbucks gift card and the kids got to play inside a inflatable dragon. Not too bad. I was feeling pretty good about the mission.

Even though I wanted a free day I knew we would need cash. We swung by the bank (free lollipops) to pick up cash, because you really must have some on you to do anything, before heading to Friendly’s. I remembered that I had saved free Sundae cards from Friendly’s since last year. Greenbrier’s Friendly’s was happy to hand us our free ice cream, and the Doss men ate lunch.

Over lunch Sam, Calvin and I discussed the next leg of free stuff hunt. I mentioned that there was the Azalea Parade at Town Point Park. The boys were game. After finishing up the Ice cream we were off to Norfolk. Only one problem, no parade. We were about 6 hours too early.

Luckily for us there was swag to be had! In the park there were little stands for all of these different countries. I felt like a pirate raiding each table for writing pens, lapel pens, and maps of far away lands that I will never get to visit. The kids were slow to pick up on the procedure of swooping in and grabbing anything that looks like it might be good, but when they spotted the candy bowls, the game was on!

I made the mistake of sampling cheese from some foreign land where lederhosen is popular. As I bit down on the horrid little lump, my nose was over taken by the smell of moldy gym socks. I didn’t want to spit out the nasty cube of funk, for fear of starting some sort of international incident. So I swallowed it whole. Thank god I had practiced eating the worm in college.

Saved by my lightening quick ninja like swallowing reflexes, the trek continued on and I collected posters, little flags, key chains (Canada gave out bottle opener key chain), stickers, tattoos and kid’s coloring books. I had a bag to carry everything plus I had my cargo shorts. The amount of crap we collected is absolutely ridiculous.

I did have to purchase gas $30, one bottle of water $3, and pay for parking $1.50. Kind of an expensive free day, but my children learned an important life lesson. How to acquire a bunch of free stuff in table raids. When they get older and visit trade shows or conferences they will know exactly what to do.

The kids had fun but now I need to figure out what to do with all of this stuff. If you, or anyone you know, are planning to go to Athens anytime soon, you can borrow my guide book and map of Greece. I am keeping the Canada bottle opener key though.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Second Life Adventure

As I mentioned in my last entry, I have been visiting Second Life (SL). It is a vast and amazing place. I have found that it can be difficult to meet people on your own without introductions, but I have been trying. Mostly, I have been exploring.

When I realized that most people are not just hanging out waiting for conversation, but have a particular agenda that I am not a part of, I decided to explore. What I do is go to a place with lots of people and check their profiles for places that they have as a favorite and then go and visit. Just right click on them and click profile. Sometimes I might even over hear a public conversation and then go and visit what they are talking about.

It kind of made me feel like a spying outsider, but every time I "spoke," to anyone they ignored me, ignored me and teleported away, or politely said they were waiting for someone else (which I took to mean that they thought I was hitting on them or something).

Saturday, I met up with a fellow computer resource specialist, Lisa, and shared some of the fun places that I had found. We went surfing, and mediated. We practiced some Tai Chi, and checked out some gardens. We floated in a stream under a waterfall and saw the Sistine Chapel (very cool). We even went to a disco that I found that has these cool floating stars.

Then we danced. Dancing in SL is strange to me. You are given a couple of moves that are stored in your gestures folder. Very basic moves that only last about 6 seconds. When you go to a disco, you can click on the hanging dance ball. Then you can choose to animate your avatar with a dance. There are usually seven or so choices. Sometimes the dance moves are just your moves that are stored in gestures and strung together in some sort of weird snippet dance. Others are actual dances that are a complete set of moves all by themselves. There are also couples balls scattered around on the dance floor and you and a partner can click on them and dance together.

Lisa asked if I wanted to dance the tango. I agreed and then magically the avatars got into sync and were dancing together. We were making small talk and then Lisa said something to the effect that her husband was getting jealous. I guess he was in the room. Until then, I was only slightly uncomfortable. Now I am sure she was joking (I think), but it did suddenly make me realize the implications of what was happening. Dancing is a passionate experience, at least it is in the real world. I immediately dropped out of the dance. If I saw my wife dancing the tango with another man (not that neither she nor I can dance the tango in Real Life) I would be more than slightly jealous. In SL, do these same feelings apply? It seemed to me that what was a fun way to pass time, now had many more real world issues tied to it.

Shortly thereafter, Lisa was having battery problems and left the grid and I was alone in SL. So I went to my favorite hangout, Shinda Spaceport, just to look around and check profiles. I had recently changed my profile to say that I wanted to say hello and have a conversation- nothing more. I just didn't like that people might think I was a stalker or something. It also seemed a good idea considering my new realization of the impact of what I do may have in the real world. I plopped down in some kind of virtual tie die bean bag chair and took in the view.

A lot of people in SL have interesting avatars. You have the "Furries," which are animal/human fantasy types and then you have people like shapes with normal outfits and some with outlandish costumes. The Spaceport is an awesome place even if no one is there. It is like you are floating on a rocky platform with stars, planets, meteors, and comets all swirling around you. It is quite beautiful.

Suddenly, a girl avatar comes up and is just standing there. After a minute or so, I decided to just say hello. Amazingly, she responded. My very first solo attempt at communication in a virtual environment! Man, was I totally geeked out!

So, Amelia and I began to have a conversation. It was hard for my to control my innocent excitement at having someone else want to talk to me, but I kept it together. She was dressed in some sort of leather like outfit with buckles on the left arm and left leg. She was like a super hot chick that would hang out at a biker bar and would smash your face in if you said something bad about her motorcycle. An imposing figure, but she wanted to talk to me.

We made some small talk for a while, which is something I am quite bad at, but I stumbled through it, and then she tells me that she likes to visit places where they have combat and avatars "die." I am game for anything and almost begged her to show me.

I have had some experience with this type of game, so I was pretty sure I could handle anything we came across. In the late 90's some friends and I played Quake, which is an awesome first person shooter type of game. Quake was the first game that I had ever seen that allowed you to network and play together against real people. I have the hang of the controls in SL and have visions of reliving when I was almost good at Quake.

We teleport (TP) in and Amelia and I are at a base. The rival avatar group has us pinned down and I have no weapons except some free pistol I picked up at the Matrix. Amelia hands over a shotgun. I am ready except I am causally walking around. She tells me how to run and then we are off in search of people to shoot.

Except we get shot. We get back in world and get shot again. And again. It seemed that we were up against some campers that we could not see. In SL the world around you slowly rezzes in, so that it gives the appearance of fog clearing as the world loads. They could see us, but we could not see them at all. The game was not as fun as I had hoped and Amelia got bored and wanted to chill.

So, I followed my newly found friend hoping to find out other things that I did not know about in SL. She took me to her favorite place and showed me a wonderfully large waterfall. Below was an old clipper type of sailing ship. I flew (I love to fly) down and she followed. She landed on the deck and surprisingly there were dance balls there, the intimate kind of slow dance.

I feel like I am 13 all over again with a world of possibilities in front me and no experience to handle it. One other thing, I don't want any interpersonal contact. I am not interested in that, I have a beautiful wife and family and that means more to me than anything. This is like watching cartoons, but you are attached to their actions, so what does that mean?

Amelia wants to slow dance. I agree out of fear of losing my first SL only friend and I make uncomfortable small talk about the shoot'em up we just had. Then she starts giving me things (related to what we are talking about) guns and more guns, a Naboo fighter, and some other things that I have not looked at yet. I am really starting to get worried.

Now keep in mind, we haven't done anything. There has been no sex talk. These are avatars and yet I feel terrible like I have done something ethically wrong. The whole time I am trying to think of something to get away and save face. I mean, really, I don't want to embarrass myself or upset my new found friend. I just don't want anything further. Maybe I want to back up a step. I finally use the oldest excuse in the world, "It's late and I have to go to bed." Maybe it is not the oldest excuse, but it is all my "out of social interaction practice with females" male mind can come up with on short notice. I quickly get out of SL and feel different levels of guilt and shame, not to mention the embarrassment of having any feelings about something that did not happen in a virtual world. Strange!

So, now I have questions. Have I done something wrong? What are the rules of social interaction in SL? The funny thing is I don't think my wife cares. She thinks I am a techno-dork anyway. The other night I was screaming, "Look I'm dancing!" and "Look I'm riding a killer whale." Amy looked over with that supportive but really low level of interest and said, "Cool." I described some of the odd things I had seen and mentioned the sex position pose balls. She asked me if I had tried the pose balls, like she asks me if I put gas in the car. I was offended. She was barely interested. If she doesn't care, so what? But I care...

Maybe I am making more of it than is really there. It is only a virtual world, after all. I think the most important question of all is, am I a virtual wussy?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Weekend in Second Life

Today I took the kids to the new movie Nim's Island. I don't always consider the messages in movies but I came up with three for this movie. Three is a magic number, not too many, but more than one. Every triangle has three corners, every triangle has three sides... Really the idea of three has just always stuck with me. Maybe, because of the catchy song.

So Nim's Island left me with the following messages; No one should be alone. Life is an adventure. and... Never give up hope.

I thought the movie was good. I could take my kids to it. No sex or dirty language. Best of all the kids watched it and were not crawling all over me disrupting my movie watching experience. I have to admit that I like Jodie Foster. She might be a great actress, but I don't think I can tell the difference. She feels close to me like someone that I grew up with and know, like my best friend. I remember watching her in Disney movies, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Tom Sawyer etc.

Anyway, the movie struck me as having meaning in the present. I have been looking into Second Life (SL). It is a very strange place, but not really all that different from Real Life (RL). It is not like Tron or anything dreamed up in the 80's, but it is fantastical. I rode a Killer Whale and floated in outer space- not possible in RL! I also rode a cat. I know it is weird but I clicked on the cat and it didn’t say pet, it said ride, so I did.

Just like in RL no one really wants to be alone and SL allows people to meet in all sorts of ways. Life should be an adventure and SL is a place where you can safely experiment with many things you would never do in RL. Most importantly, SL allows people to escape the confines of RL and not give up hope. Hope that they can control their world, or be what they always pictured themselves to be.

I have mixed feelings about Second Life. It is exciting and new to me (I signed up earlier but just got my hands on a computer that can handle the graphical demands). At first, I was embarrassed to be a "noobie," but I have come to think that is alright. I am not worried about being the last person to discover SL. I am not interested in getting tattoos, or having wild outfits. I don't want to be scary or engage in virtual sexual encounters. I just want to use it to further my RL pursuits. Meet with other educators and work to make learning fun for students. And maybe have fun doing it.

I am very interested in experiencing some of the community and sharing experiences of the environment. SL has a wonderful ability to virtually bring people together. But I do worry about the "Dark Side" of SL, because it is out there. I haven't seen it but I must confessed to being amazed yesterday when I was shopping for free things and a woman avatar suddenly apeared in front of me and was completely naked. As her skin rezzed in, I could make out remarkable detail. It was disturbing, interesting... confusing. The closest thing I can compare it to is when I was about 8 and I first saw my sister's naked Barbie. It was not what I was there for and yet I was easily distracted. Next time it won't be new to me, but I will be staying away from the R and X rated "Pose Balls."

Another interesting thing about SL is that the avatars are personalized. You can make it look like anything you want. You are probably guessing there are not too many ugly avatars, and you would be right. Mine is boring. I have a couple of t-shirts and I wear shorts and sandals. Just like if it was summer in RL for me. I did decide to make myself taller the other day, but for some reason I almost feel like it is wrong to present myself far from reality. I will be fixing that the next time.

There are many things that I am trying to get a handle on in SL. At least I have a couple of friends "inworld." I will be curious to see what direction this SL exploration will take me. Maybe I will get myself some bling that is all sparkly, like a watch. I have always wanted some bling in RL but my wife won’t let me get any. Of course, in RL I wouldn’t actually wear it, I just like to ask because it bugs her!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I have really been unsettled about what to write about lately. To show how deeply it has been pressing on me I thought I would share that I had a terrible dream last night. I won't go into details except to say that it was so shocking that in my dream I said that I was going to blog about it and told at least one person that he needed to check my blog out at the end of the day because it would have all of the details.

I woke up this morning and thought that was odd all by itself. Dreaming about bloging on the dream you were having while you were still in the dream. :-?

I think I know what I want to say now but I had to throw this in there 1st. And no it will not be about the dream.