August 2005


This is a few days old by now, but Business Week is reporting about Leapfrog's new 'Fly,' a computer embedded inside a largish pen. The pen interacts with kids through voice commands and writing recognition.

Kids can use it as a calculator, keep a calendar, create and record music, and play complex logic and geography games — all features I tried and found fun and educational.

What's so cool about this, I think, is that it moves the interface away from the keyboard/mouse/monitor that kids are tied to with computers. Embedded computing is also another way for kids to be more mobile – so they can take more traditional 'learning activities' outside of the predictable environments and into their own, more informal spaces.

The downside is that the pen requires special paper (sold separately, of course) in order for its handwriting recognition to work.

After lots of hubbub and grinding on the rumor mill:

Google's new integrated IM/VOIP/EMail client, Google Talk, is online a few hours early. (Slashdot coverage)Note that in order to use it you must already have a GMail account. Is Google trying to centralize its namespace? Seems like it. I forsee JoeSmith4468893006.

Many, many kudos to my friend Joe, who is part of a multi-site team that's just been funded ($7.5 million!!!) to establish "A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Accurate and Transparent Elections" (ACCURATE). (See Joe's blog post on the subject.)

This is a huge step and is the first center of its kind, I believe. Since 2000 we've all been feeling both the need to understand e-voting issues and, especially in California, fight the rush to bring faulty new voting technologies to the rescue. Bottom line: the solution to bad low-tech voting (i.e. hanging chads) is not bad high-tech voting.

I was just going through a frustrating exercise: we recently completed an online survey which used an iPod giveaway as a mechanism for drawing in participants. So just this morning I generated the fateful random number and selected the winner.

After writing a simple email explaining that our participant had won, I was struck with the challenge of writing a suitable title. More importantly a title that would make it through a spam filter. I originally had 'Congratulations, iPod Winner!' but realized that every single element of that title might set off a spam filter, even the damn punctuation. But I didn't want to abandon the point of the message altogether – a title should relate to the content. I finally settled on a simple 'UC Survey: Congratulations'. Of course, our winner won't know what the kudos are for until she opens up the message – IF she opens up the message.

We are at a frustrating point where the efforts we must make to rid ourselves of spam are encroaching on our habits and making us think twice about things we'd otherwise not give a second though. That's an awful position to be in – technology should work for us, not against us. Inboxes full of spam do seem worse to me, but that's why we should kill all spammers.

There's a front page NY Times story today about the effects of high gas prices. It's a well written and researched article, but surprisingly it doesn't mention what I think is one of the most practical Google Maps Hacks out there: Cheap Gas, which allows you to find the cheapest gas prices in your area. As gas prices continue their inevitable creep towards $5/gallon I have a feeling I'll be using it more and more.

Gas Prices Chart
(courtesy NY Times)

The Children's Partnership has just released a new report which might be of interest:

Measuring Digital Opportunity for America's Children: Where We Stand and Where We Go From Here

By Wendy Lazarus and Andrew Wainer with Laurie Lipper

This report is the first-ever look across four key areas to see whether Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is helping children 1) improve educational achievement, 2) lead healthier lives, 3) increase economic opportunity, and 4) participate in their communities. The year-long study also reveals the disparities that have resulted in an "opportunity gap" for millions of low-income and ethnic minority children.

Innovate Magazine's Aug./Sept. issue focuses ' on the role of video game technology in current and future educational settings.' TOC to follow:

What Would a State of the Art Instructional Video Game Look Like?
J. P. Gee
Epistemic Games
David Williamson Shaffer
What Can K-12 School Leaders Learn from Video Games and Gaming?
Richard Halverson
simSchool: The Game of Teaching
Melanie Zibit and David Gibson
Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?
Kurt Squire
Game-Informed Learning: Applying Computer Game Processes to Higher Education
Michael Begg, David Dewhurst, and Hamish Macleod
The Design of Advanced Learning Engines: An Interview with Clark Aldrich
Joel Foreman and Clark Aldrich
Places to Go: Apolyton
Stephen Downes

The New York Times Magazine printed a feature piece this past Sunday on Rooster Teeth Productions and Machinima. While Red vs. Blue has been around for a couple of years now, I think this article does a great job of capturing its position in the context of popular culture and the video game debate, recently stoked by Hillary Clinton and GTA3.

Also check out unmediated's post on this subject.

My paper has been accepted to the 2005 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in Washington, DC. It has been a challenge for me to learn to bridge the gap between technology and anthropology in other forums, so it's good to know that the AAA pays a bit of attention.

I did this work in the spring in conjunction with a wonderful course I took with AnnaLee Saxenian and Joyojeet Pal called 'ICT for Development: Context, Strategies, and Impact.' What I really liked about the course is that it was a fantastic synthesis of many disciplines – economics, sociology, anthropology, computer science and engineering. We had participants from all these fields, and together I think we were able to expose the problems with much of the ICT-based development work that's going on today. I blogged recently about an abstract I wrote for EPIC (rejected) about how companies that explore markets in the developing world (the mythical 'other' 3 billion) are essentially doing development work without realizing it. This paper is a first step in trying to make that process more acceptable.

A Case for Culturally Appropriate Kiosks

Judd D. Antin
School of Information Management and Systems
University of California Berkeley

Though many anthropologists have long recognized the need to tailor interventions to specific cultural contexts, that revelation has come more recently to technologists and information scientists in other fields. Ethnography has been recognized by some in the information technology fields for its ability to inform the design of sustainable new programs and assess and modify existing ones, but for others it is still seen as unsuitable or impractical. Few attempts have been made to use ethnographic methods to create culturally appropriate information and communication technologies (ICTs) and programs based upon them. Kiosk programs, which provide public access to computers and computer-related services for a variety of purposes including education, communication, and access to government services, have become one of the primary means for bringing the power of modern technology to underserved populations in the developing world. However, though many kiosk programs have been implemented, few have become sustainable or widely used. Beginning with the premise that successful and sustainable programs are those that adapt themselves to local cultures, this paper will explore the application of ethnographic methods to the assessment and design of culturally appropriate kiosk programs. Using several case studies, this paper will describe the unique challenges of designing culturally appropriate and sustainable kiosk programs, and illustrate how cultural factors can contribute to the success or failure of a kiosk project.

Fine Wine – Skill – Mystery – Passion + Commercialism = Enologix

See the NY Times Article.

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