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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





Three laws of AI

George Dyson in his Edge article "Turing's Cathedral" (November 24, 2005), quotes a Google employee as saying about the  Google Book Seach (formerly Google Print) project:

"We are not scanning all those books to be read by people... We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

I have to admit, this gave me the willies. Should it? Is there an AI equivilent to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics?

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I'd sleep better knowing that someone a whole lot smarter than I am is thinking this through. Will AIs be the benign helpmates envisioned by Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines or the nemisis of humanity desribed in Dan Simmon's science fiction novels of Hyperion or Clarke's 2001?

Is my friendly little PowerBook about to say to me: "I'm sorry, Doug. I'm afraid I can't do that."?



Treo and the Accelerated Learning Curve

Several folks asked me if I would  comment  on whether I like my Treo 650 that I recently acquired.

The Sprint phone and web services became active last Wednesday afternoon,  so I spent quite a bit of time on Thanksgiving  Day futzing with the thing. Here, so far, are the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good:

  • Having used my Palm Tungsten C for a couple years,  I didn’t need to spend any time learning the PalmOS.
  • Synching the device with my PowerBook using Bluetooth is wonderful.  No wires. The first synch took a couple hours (I probably should have used the cable), but subsequent synchs have only taken a few minutes. I’ll be synching more often since it is so convenient, I believe.
  • Entourage (Outlook for Mac) conduits work great once you get all the Palm conduits turned off.
  • I used the same Palm desktop software with the Treo that I had been using with my Tungsten,  so the few extra programs I’d purchased were loaded to the new device. All but one (WebPro) worked.
  • The web connectivity works great. The connection is fast and a whole lot more versatile than the WiFi on the Tungsten. Yes, I’m paying $10 a month (less 15% school discount) for it, but that’s pretty cheap considering I can use this anyplace there is Sprint coverage and as much as I’d like.
  • Both my e-mail accounts, one POP, one IMAP, work just fine with VersaMail.
  • I like the speaker phone, the ability to easily create speed dial numbers, and especially being able to just tap a number in my contacts list and then tap dial – badda bing, baddaboom. No building two lists of phone numbers!
  • The manual provided by Sprint (not quite 8 pounds) is clearly written and seems comprehensive.

The bad:

  • Neither the keys nor the screen have gotten any bigger than on the Tungsten nor have my thumbs grown smaller nor my eyes better.  It is definitely bulkier than a regular cell phone.
  • Doesn’t look like there will be a good way to carry this device in a way that the screen doesn’t get scratched, but the phone is still convenient.
  • This will be a more costly proposition than I had anticipated. I had to buy my son a “Sprint” phone if we were to stay with a family plan ($70). I bought a case ($30) and an auto charger ($15). I’ll probably wind up buying another battery, another charger, and a memory card. So far, no software has caught my eye, but some of the mapping/GPS stuff looks cool. I also want a Bluetooth headset so I can wander about looking like I am visiting my own personal voices.

The ugly:

  • The little plastic protective sheet for the screen got bubbly and dirty in about 10 minutes. Worthless.
  • While websites pop up just fine, I’m finding very few maximized for the itty-bitty screen. Northwest Airlines has a special website just for people using PDAs. I’d love to see make a PDA maximized version of its site.
  • There is a learning curve still ahead –  how to use this thing as an mp3 player, with the memory card, programming buttons, etc.
  • Probably my biggest “ugly” may well be that the thing works too well and I may well become a “crackberry”- using it when I should be attending to human beings in meetings.

On a side note, I don’t remember a time when I’ve the need to learn more new techie stuff than I have over the past six months. So far I’ve tackled, but not mastered:

  • Tiger OS
  • Blogging software (two flavors) and relearning some html coding
  • Bloglines/RSS feeds
  • Wiki sites
  • Moodle learning software
  • Photo sharing services
  • New web editing software for our local Kiwanis club.
  • Skype
  • The cell phone part of the Treo.
  • The remote control on the big-ass, complicated TV I’ve hauled up from the downstairs family room.

I think I read one more “you really ought to try this wonderful service,” I’m going to have to find something to kick. Has the rate of new Web 2.0 apps increased lately, or have I just come out of a coma?


Thanksgiving Day 05

Middle Jefferson Lake, LeSueur County, MN, November 23, 2005, 7AM

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

    -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

I'm thankful for the teachers who made me memorize poetry and things like sunrises that bring those poems to mind.