Site Update: Los Angeles Photos

I took some photos in Los Angeles, though they aren't exactly photos of Los Angeles. Instead... uhm, museum-goers. They're photos of museum-goers. I must have been in a weird mood that week.

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Milestone: 12 Million Hits

Wow, it's the site's 12 millionth hit. Let's look at the log: - - [27/Jun/2008:00:13:43 -0400] "GET /new/archive/2005_08_01_index.html HTTP/1.1" 304 - "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +"

Here, the Google crawler was making sure that a page of blog entries from 2005 hadn't changed.

I use these "millionth" hits as an excuse to babble about webmasterly stuff. I didn't think I'd have anything to talk about this time. But about a week ago, I heard about Google's "Google Trends for Websites" feature, "a fun tool that gives you a view of how popular your favorite websites are, including your own!" You give it the name of a domain (e.g., "") and it shows you a pretty graph of how many visitors that site got over time, a list of other domains popular with those visitors, and queries that visitors tend to search for. Wow, interesting! So, I asked for trends for my website:

[Empty chart with words: 'No data available']

...And thus we are reminded that my web site is not very popular; Google hasn't been able to gather enough data to generate cool statistics. And I notice that it says this about all of, not just the lahosken part. That is, my site isn't just unpopular: it's a small part of an unpopular backwater. If you're reading this, you have obscure interests.

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Book Report: Thirteen Moons

The Trail of Tears was a bad thing, but Thirteen Moons was a good novel.

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Not exactly Puzzlehunts

Tom Lester and Annie Burnham got married today. You might remember them from BANG 13... but it's been a couple of years, so you don't have to feel bad if you don't remember. But they're married now, which is cool and also there was a reception party where I got to see a bunch of people I hadn't seen in... in years, in some cases. Some of them were up to interesting things.

Dave Litwin is making puzzles. These are not Game-ish word puzzles. These are physical-manipulation puzzles. You read about these gatherings in which puzzle freaks get together and trade the puzzles they've made. Dave phrased it "After a while, to support your addiction, you have to start dealing."

Not at all puzzle-related but arguably interesting: Kiem's become interested in antique sock knitters. They're these devices kinda like if you take the cross product of a loom, a cylinder, and a set of knitting needles. Kinda. She says a lot of them were sold at some point in history through a sort of pyramid scheme about as evil as Kirby vacuums. This outfit sold knitters and yarn to ladies across the country as an investment, the company would buy socks produced. Except that it didn't buy many socks--it turned away most as being low quality. So there's a lot of these knitting-devices out there.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Minneapolis

Remember a while back, I mentioned SF0, a not-really-a-puzzle-hunt dealie, more of a mutual-dare society? Well some folks on SF0 bridged the gap to puzzlehuntdom: they hosted a puzzle hunt in Minneapolis (citing BANG as an inspiration) and invited SF0 folks to play. The result: MN0PQ:1.

You can go look at the page: there are write-ups by organizers, playtesters, players.

SF0 is a game played for points. People take on challenges. The person who does the best here gets "first place", worth extra points. So SF0, as a "meta-game" might be a way to encourage folks to host puzzlehunts: who got SF0's "first place" award for MN0PQ1? The organizers. (See, there's a subtle distinction between "who won the puzzle hunt?" and "who got First Place in the SF0 challenge around the puzzle hunt?")

(Yes, yes, I should really be looking at Ghost Patrol application material instead of this other stuff. I'm doing that, too.)

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Puzzle Hunts were Everywhen, even 1973

Holy #$!) check it out: It's old Game invites to pre-Midnight Madness 1970s Don Luskin et. al puzzle-y Games! And newspaper articles describing those games! It seems like they were pretty heavy on the cryptic crossword-ish material. But there was other stuff going on. The "Idle Smart" article has a lot of details, including info about a couple of the top teams.

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Book Report: Invisible Cities

I am back from Los Angeles. I have seen more art museums recently than... than is perhaps healthy. The stench of artsy-fartsiness clings to me still. I'm digging out from underneath a backlog of everything, but meanwhile I can share a book report I wrote a few weeks back about an appropriately artsy-fartsy book: Invisible Cities

It's a little surreal novella by Italo Calvino. Marco Polo describes strange cities to Kublai Khan. There's enough weirdness in here that you want M.P. and K.K. to represent things. M.P. travels, then reports to K.K., who doesn't travel. So does M.P. represent sensation and K.K. represent reflection? Or does M.P. represent experience and K.K. represent wisdom? Or.... or... well, you can project quite a few things onto that, really, choose one that appeals to you. So I'm not sure what this book is supposed to mean, there's possibilities to choose from. But I know I enjoyed reading it.

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Book Report: Developing Technical Training

Please pardon this book report: these are my notes from the book, not the usual wry and insightful commentary.

"Instructional design", as near as I can tell, is a movement to apply some rigor to lesson planning & curriculum planning, piggybacking on some theories of learning from psychology.

I've been reading some I.D. books. They seem to hammer on some points that are "old news" to tech writers... but they keep hammering on them so maybe they're not such obvious points. When trying to teach some material, you have choices about how to present that material. There's no one best way.

  • Depending on the material... To teach someone how to tie their shoelaces, a video's much better than a verbal description. To teach someone a computer programming technique, a cut-and-pasteable web page is better than a video... and code example might be better yet.
  • Depending on the learner... Some people like to attend live lectures, some people like to go read in a corner
  • Depending on the presenter... Some people like to present live lectures, some people like to go write in a corner

"As to theory, this book reflects the instructional design model of M. David Merrill, one of my mentors during my doctoral work at USC... Guidelines for the design of textual materials are based on the work of Robert E. Horn and are available in Information Mapping(TM) seminars... Finally, the illustration of instructional methods applied to two media--workbook and computer--is drawn from the instructional method/instructional media distinction of Richard E. Clark."

A set of steps

  • Needs assessment "What task do people not know how to do that they should?"
  • Task analysis "The people who do this thing right, what do they do? What do they know?"
  • Learning objectives "What do we teach?"
  • Assessment "How do we know whether they learned? How do we know whether the lesson/curriculum is working?"
  • Development
  • Try Out--Revise
  • Provide to students

This book attempts to categorize things to learn. Other books do too, and of course they don't agree on categories. This book's schtick is a matrix:

Apply Classify new examples Solve a proplem/Make an inference Perform the procedure Solve a (hazy) problem/Make a (deeper) inference
Remember Remember the facts Remember the definition Remember the stages Remember the steps Remember the guidelines
Facts Concepts Processes Procedures Principles

A great way to teach things: force students to apply the knowledge. As they use it, it weaves into their brains.

Facts Unfortunately, there's not generally a way to "apply" facts. If you have multiple related facts to present, try to show them in a list. In text, call out facts in some way. Suggest mnemonics. Set up "job aids" (references/"cheat sheets")

Concepts Definitions. Ask people to differentiate: which of these is/is not a ____? When teaching start with the "platonic ideal" example, work out to border cases.

Process This is a set of steps, but it's not a set of steps to carry out. It's like describing the "Life of a Chassis on the Assembly Line". This is useful if a car emerges with no wheels--you can ask at what stages something might have gone wrong.

Procedure A set of steps that someone might carry out. To assess--ask them to carry it out.

Principle High-level judgement calls. State the principle. Provide examples, non-examples. Sometimes analogies help.

Planning lesson/curriculum at the high level: Make sure that you start with an overview. Tell the students what they'll learn before they even sign up--so they're sure that they want to sign up. "Knowledge-based" vs "Job-Centered" -- group topics by similar topics or similar-time-applied? Knowledge-based good for long-term, high-level; job-centered good for immediate.

A section on computer-based training... that reminds us of how far computers have come along in the last few years. Nowadays, this section is about as useful as the Chicago Manual of Style's explanation on how to make an index from index cards.

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Site Update: The Smoking GNU: Back to Basics

You are, of course, far too tactful to point out that it took me over two months to write up the wacky fun times playing in the Midnight Madness game with The Smoking GNU. It takes a while to write up that many wacky fun times!

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Book Report: China: Fragile Superpower

This book is about China.

This book makes me want to hide my eyes and say "I hope you're wrong." It paints a discouraging picture.

The Chinese government fears overthrow by popular uprising. The government quashes dissent. The government's propaganda arm, an especially conservative group, demonizes Japan, America, and Taiwan. That's pretty much all of what the citizens hear about the world outside of China: just about three countries, and they're all awful. Students who want to become political--they know that if they protest their own government, they'll be stopped. So they protest America, Japan, or Taiwan.

The government tends to overreact in crises, painting itself into corners. When the world spotlight is on China, the China government rattles sabers--because it needs to appear strong to the people, too strong to overthrow. Saber-rattling has been pretty harmless so far, because China hasn't had the military strength to plausibly do much. But China's becoming more powerful. Japan is re-arming.

USA senators have an interesting way of encouraging China to be more humane: when China does something inhumane, punish China; when China does something humane, punish China. This makes it hard to nudge China towards being more humane.

We're all doomed. I want a cookie.

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