Search this site
Other stuff

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

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

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

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





Riding and Random Thoughts

mybike.jpg My First Bicycle

Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia. H.G. Wells

One of the genuine benefits of physical exercise - that goes beyond developing excellent glutes - is how walking, running, or biking stirs the thinking process. Excess oxygen to the brain or something. Somehow I always get my best ideas or solutions to problems when doing something at least semi-aerobic.

This Labor Day weekend the LWW, her daughter, her daughter’s SO, and I bicycled the beautiful Cannon River trail from Cannon Falls to Red Wing and back to Cannon Falls. An easy 20 miles in each direction. Plenty of time for a bit of musing.

Idle Thought #1
Bicycles are one of the best technologies ever invented. I remember reading once that a bicycle is the most energy efficient form of land transportation. I believe it. It’s incredible how improved the technology of bicycling has become since my earliest bike riding days as a kid, proud of his new one-speed $30 Coast King bike, to today with my 21-speed $300 Cannondale velocipede. The Cannondale, now seven-years-old, weighs half of what the Coast King did and can be geared down to the point it will nearly climb trees. I do believe it it’s no more physically demanding to ride 20 miles on it than it was to ride the mile or so to my cousin’s farm when I was a kid.

I was reminded once again that one way to look at technology is that is simply a device that amplifies and extends a natural human ability. The bicycle amplifies the leg; the telescope, the eye; the telephone, the ear. I am still trying to figure out what exactly the computer and Internet amplify.

Idle Thought #2
Can’t we pass a law that would require that any mandated state test must first be passed by the legislators who voted for it?

Idle Thought #3
I rather pride myself in that I almost never watch television. But I may have to rethink this after watching some of the footage of the impact and tragedies of Hurricane Katrina. The realization that the majority of the horrors that came after the storm have fallen mainly on the poor African-American population simply wasn’t apparent to me until watching the evening news. While I read two daily newspapers, scan Newsweek, and listen to NPR, there was something about the television images that illuminated this heartbreaking story in a way no other medium could. Maybe I better watch the TV news more regularly.

Idle Thought #4
Each year I set as goal more regular visits to the buildings in my district. Each year, it seems, my desk exerts greater magnetic pull. While that can be explained in part because I can solve more problems and communicated effectively with folks throughout the district via e-mail, I am not sure it is the complete answer. Whatever the cause, I plan this year to really demagnetize myself and get out and talk to my media specialists, teachers and principals on a regular basis.

Idle Thought #5
The Onion continues to be the funniest and smartest satire going. While LM_Net alerted everyone to the “story” about Google destroying all information it can’t catalog, their piece, Intelligent Falling, is even funnier (and more pointed).

Idle Thought #6
Increasingly, I’ve been having what I call “charmed life” moments - a sudden realization just how incredibly lucky I am to have the life I have - wonderful family, decent health for all of us, a beautiful home in a beautiful state, some financial security (working wife!), a job and profession I love, and a bit of leisure time to simply enjoy life. I once believed that the truly lucky people were those born to great wealth. I was wrong.

The most recent of these moments came while sitting outdoors eating breakfast at the St. James Hotel in Redwing yesterday morning eating delicious rye toast with strawberry preserves, watching slow traffic moving up and down the Mississippi, and enjoying the company of my lovely wife and two bright and funny 20-somethings. If I ever sound whiney or ungrateful about anything, somebody please dope-slap me. Thank you.
the computer and the Internet amplify my tendencies towards ADD…

Comment by SaraKellyJohns — September 6, 2005 @ 10:22 pm

I’ve had my own random thoughts lately, several of which parallel yours…the legislative tests, for example. But I just sent this quote to my friends and colleagues: “If I ever sound whiney or ungrateful about anything, somebody please dope-slap me. Thank you.”

Thanks for expressing it so well.

Comment by Donna — September 7, 2005 @ 12:08 pm

I’ve had reports that some folks don’t know what a “dope slap” is. I hear it regularly referred to on NPR’s Car Talk. Maybe it is a Boston expresssion. BUT it has universal applications.

From The Urban Dictionary

Dope Slap: A light “whappp” to the back of the head, done with an open palm in an upward motion. The physical equivalent of the phrase, “Whatta you, a moron?!”

Someone oughta give that damn Illinois driver a dope slap for driving like an idiot!

Comment by dougj — September 7, 2005 @ 2:16 pm


Bloglines: Exacerbating My ADD

As if I needed one more online distraction, I’ve gotten hooked on Bloglines, an RSS Feed Reader. (In English - a single webpage that shows when your favorite blogs have been updated.) It’s called an aggregator, but I believe that’s just a typo for “aggravator.”

Right now I’ve got 15 feeds of blogs of professional interest that generate (in aggregate) quite a number of new entries every day:

2 Cents Worth (David Warlick)
Alice in InfoLand’s blog (Alice Yucht)
Bloglines | News
The Committed Sardine Blog (Ian Jukes)
Cool Tools Word of the Day
The Ghost of Charlie Hoban
The Google Weblog
Kathy Schrock’s Kaffeeklatsch
MacRumors: Mac News and Rumors
Quotations Weblog
Quotes of the Day
The Shifted Librarian
Spyware Daily
Wired News

Bloglines is a simple tool to use. Paste the URL into the little blank provided and click “subscribe” after it finds the site. Delete the blogs you no longer wish to have listed. I’m afraid my list seems to be growing rather than shrinking, however.

I suppose I am the last person on the planet to know about this, but I recommend it highly to others afflicted with ADD and need something to keep them from getting their real work accomplished. Or to those who want to know more about the kinds information and ways of getting to it that kids are into.

So what blogs am I not reading that I should be?
Take a look at:

  1. Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed (there is a good RSS guide on his site also).
  2. Michael Lorenzen’s The Information Literacy Land of Confusion library instruction, librarianship, information literacy, and search engines.
  3. Librarian Way Connections for Librarians web-based Technology and Research Resources
  4. Tim Lauer’s Education Technology Principal at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, Portland OR
  5. Phil Bradley’s Blog focus on search engines and searching.

I also subscribe to political blogs and some of feeds from Seattle PI, NYTimes, . Easy to scan for most important / interesting and avoids all the different interfaces on the sites.

My whole list is at

Comment by Robert Eiffert — September 2, 2005 @ 7:27 pm

Yes - bloglines is great. I use it every day to follow my favorite blogs & keep up on other areas of interest. It will soon take over my life and I will never be seen again….. To see my full list of blogs - just go to my pseudo-blog at:
(I created the blog using bloglines - just as a way to teach myself the process. I don’t have any plans to update it - but it is there if I ever want to…)

But here is the issue that is making me CRAZY. I am SO upset that our content filter blocks it & our tech committe will not unblock it. When I first discovered Bloglines - I immediately fell in love with the power it gave me to follow my favorite blogs. I also fell in love with the ability to save articles for future reference. I wanted to teach the students - especially the seniors before going to college - how to set up folders for all their research projects. That way they can easily drop good articles into the folders as they ran across them. I also like for saving ANY article I find on the web. So far, our content filter allows Savethis. That could change tomorrow. However, I really wanted to encourage the students to set up rss feeds if they have not already done so. So Bloglines is really necessary. I know that there are downloadable rss feed readers. Alas - our tech committee not only turned down my request to unblock Bloglines, but, because of budget cuts and dying computers, they have put a freeze on downloading ANY software. THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING!!

Comment by Jacquie Henry — September 3, 2005 @ 7:22 pm

Consider these:
Joyce Valenza’s Neverending Search, at
Michael Stephen’s Tame the Web: Technology & Libraries, at
Christopher Harris’ Infomancy, at
Fernette and Brock Eide’sNeurolearning blog, at
Uglcoyote’si Endless Faculty Meeting, at

and — for a truly honest take on the realities of education:

Comment by Alice Yucht — September 9, 2005 @ 8:06 pm |



The Tech-Nazi

I was visiting a small school district near Mankato not long ago and had a chance to visit with its curriculum director. In passing, she referred to their technology director as the “Tech-Nazi” - a title she admitted was borrowed from Seinfeld’s character the Soup-Nazi.

This is not the first time I’ve heard folks holding my position in other districts described in less than endearing terms. One librarian refers to her tech director as “Bob God.” I heard a teacher refer to her district’s technology department as the “Education Prevention Department.” And of course there are those other names that shouldn’t appear in a family blog.

Tech directors have two strikes against them coming out of the box. First, technology itself has not always been warmly embraced by educators (not to state the obvious or anything). Its complex and often unreliable nature makes it a source of irritation more than delight. Second, techies have an appreciation of the vulnerability of the equipment they are charged with maintaining that normal people simply don’t. We SEE those viruses, hackers, software conflicts, power-surges, and SUDs (stupid user dysfunctions) that are always surrounding the fort, waiting for the smallest breach, and then sneaking in and wreaking havoc.

I, for one, would be heart-broken if I thought my nickname was Tech-Nazi or Doug God. Good working relations with people are as important to me as the good working order of computers. And I think it is possible to have both if:

1. You listen to and heed both educators’ and technicians’ views before making a technology policy decision.
2. You establish a formal collaborative decision-making body that meets on a regular basis and includes as many stakeholders as possible.
3. You take the time to communicate in understandable terms why a technology decision has been made. (And have a damn good reason for making it.)
4. You support the goals of teachers and students, not separate technology “goals.”
5. You leave the office and visit teachers and librarians to find out how they are really doing with technology. (I call this being a complaint magnet.)
6. You tend to err on the side of convenience and accessibility rather than on the side of security.
7. You always give other people the benefit of the doubt, recognize accidents happen, and truly believe equipment is better worn out than rusted out.

I’d love to hear other ideas about improving one’s popularity as well as one’s effectiveness. (And other nasty names for tech directors you’d care to share.)