Archive for June, 2005

Category Inactive Users

Jun 29 2005 Published by under borderland,teacher research

Earlier this month I had the rare opportunity to introduce a group of education professionals to the wiki. I wanted to see if some might want to use TrueNorth to help develop a professional resource and generate support for classroom innovations. The reaction I got was interesting – and is prompting me to refocus my vision for the website.

Of the 30-40 people who listened to me there were maybe 5 who knew something about blogging. Nobody knew anything about wikis or even Wikipedia. Clearly, we needed more time for concept development, but that time wasn’t available. Confusion in the computer lab had a technical as well as a social dimension. Technical problems involved logging in and creating user pages, links, etc. Socially, comments seemed to have gotten confused with email. People seemed to have more or less enjoyed themselves, but I doubt that they found anything of value in it. I’m grateful for the time they gave me, because I learned a lot.

(NOTE: To anyone who may have participated in one of those meetings and is reading this, I am trying to understand and explain what happened so that I can make the site more useful to teachers. Feedback would be valuable!)

I hoped that the wiki would be simple enough so that barriers to contributing would be perceived as minimal. But without a norm for online authoring among teachers, people will need time to become familiar with new media. Stephen Downes discussed community creation earlier this year, and he points out that community is more than just a place or a site, it’s a network. The wiki can only become part of a potential network – not the network itself. My role with TrueNorth is to explore its potential for value – to myself and others – and treat it like a notebook.

Now there is a list of “users” who I suspect will not return to the wiki. I’ve given the issue of what to do with inactive users some thought in the last few weeks. I don’t want to simply delete the accounts they have entered into the database. But I also don’t want to leave their names and pages on the users page if they are not using the wiki. The simplest way to remedy the situation right now is to include some guidelines in a policy statement, and then create a new category called InactiveUsers. I can very simply change the category tag on those user pages. Any users categorized as inactive are invited to change the category tag on their page if they choose to contribute to the wiki.

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Wiki Add

Jun 26 2005 Published by under teacher research

A plugin for this WordPress that will post selected content on TrueNorth is now up and running. This is a very cool integration of WordPress and Wikka Wiki two applications that are now “talking to each other.” I want to use the wiki as a repository for some things that I can also write about on Borderland.

Update: This is actually the second post -now truncated- that I have made attempting to announce this WordPress/Wikka plugin’s installation. As anyone (who visits the wiki) could see, the wiki page isn’t as lengthy as the original blog post because I used it to demonstrate that the plugin does work. But only with shorter texts. As a consequence, I don’t see this plugin as very useful.

    What I would like to see it do:

  • create wiki pages of any length; (of course)
  • update the wiki page if the blog post is updated.

Fixing this may give me a chance to explore my limited skills with PHP.

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Test Post

Jun 26 2005 Published by under teacher research

The Wikiadd plugin displays only short posts to the blog in the wiki pages, but apparently chokes on longer texts. I have made numerous posts to the wiki from the blog, but the only ones to successfully display on the wiki are all short. Also, the wiki page is not updated when the blog is updated. This limited functionality is going to be a disincentive to using the plugin.

Update: Despite the “limited functionality” I’m using the plugin. To work around the limitations I simply copy and paste the blog text into the wiki page that is called when I click the link at the end of the post. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works well enough to make it worth using.

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Wiki Add

Jun 26 2005 Published by under teacher research

MURPHY’S LAW: When you test something over and over again and think you have it all set for deployment, it will inexplicably FAIL when you finally declare it operational.

After numerous tests this afternoon, the plugin was working perfectly. Now it is not doing anything. No errors, no nothing. CRAP!

Update: See Test Post

Update2:(Jan. 8, 2006) For those visitors interested in the Wikiadd plugin, it’s been deactivated since I upgraded to WordPress 2.0. If I do reinstall it, I’ll take a closer look at the SQL queries and function parameters. I noticed during the first installation, that the tables in the previous version of WordPress may have had some differences in the names that were used. The plugin didn’t hurt anything, but it didn’t work as well as I would have liked, either.

A plugin for this blog that will post selected content on the TrueNorth teacher wiki is now up and running deactivated. This is a very cool integration of WordPress and Wikka Wiki, two applications that are now were “talking to each other.” I want to use the wiki as a repository for some things that I can also write about on Borderland.

The plugin is configured to put anything I categorize as teacher research into the wiki, creating a wiki page that converts the blog title into a WikiName and to display the link to the wiki page on the bottom of the post. The wiki page is also linked back to the blog. One problem I had was that the wiki is configured to require user login for authoring. A function in the plugin needed to be customized slightly to deal with that. Otherwise, it was all pretty straightforward.

Now I won’t have I still had to to copy and paste in order to include relevant blog posts in the wiki [because the posts longer than a few lines weren't written to the database] If you solve this problem, please let me know.

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Jun 14 2005 Published by under borderland,education,teacher research

How often are we asked questions that we wish we’d have answered differently? On the way home from a presentation I gave to some teachers in a graduate-level Reading program I thought about how I’d stumbled over the answer to a simple question posed by one of the teachers. I was in the truck and halfway home before the most honest and straightforward answer came to mind. Oh, how I wish I was always able to think as fast as I need to! Maybe that’s why I like to write more than I like to talk.

I was at the university to tell these teachers about the TrueNorth wiki site that I am developing. It’s for teachers to use and contribute to as a professional resource. I wanted to invite the participation of these folks. I am convinced that teachers would benefit from having a way to communicate with one another about what we are doing so that we don’t waste our energy struggling with the same problems independently. It seems to me that teachers could take advantage of technology to create supportive and productive professional communities.

This was unfamiliar territory for all of them. None of them had heard of wikis. Few had heard of blogging. I had a lot of conceptual hurdles to overcome and I knew it was going to be an uphill walk. I told them about my students’ blogs. I told them about wikis. I told them about the enthusiasm my students developed for writing. I explained my thinking about the benefits of collaborative community.

After I spoke for 15 or 20 minutes a woman asked, “Why would anyone want to do this?”

I think I took a step backward. It was a question – a good question – that I have thought about a lot. But it seemed to me that I had already addressed that. (Poorly, I guess). So… I said something about the satisfaction that comes from acknowledgment when you are writing for a real audience. It’s true, I think. But it wasn’t the best answer. I talked around the real answer.

The real answer – the one that I thought of too late – why I’m writing this: The reason to be a blogger is Empowerment.

Funny. No kid ever asked me that question.

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Broken Puppy

Jun 11 2005 Published by under borderland

Broken Puppy

The vet said that she’d seen it before. Old dogs discipline the young ones and sometimes they don’t know their own strength. So our 13 week old husky has a fractured jaw! Bosco is pushing his luck these days. We thought he made a good playmate for Maya, and he does, but he wasn’t playing when he did this. We *think* he may have been worked-up over a biscuit, or some little bit of food they discovered in the truck while left there together for a moment. The fact is that Bosco has a short fuse, and he needs a status reduction program.

Maybe Maya will grow up big enough to teach him a few things. I won’t be sad if she does.

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Spam, Comments, and Predation

Jun 07 2005 Published by under borderland,education,technology

When I set up my students’ blogs I configured them to send me an email whenever a comment was posted. That turned out to be a handy function. To begin with, I didn’t realize how much kids would use the comment feature. Some of them went comment-crazy. I had several teachable moments regarding how to comment. None of the comments they made seemed especially deep, but they served to let the author know that their work had been read.

The other day one of the kids’ blogs got a comment from someone asking for advice about doing flips and requested the student email back. Woah! It wasn’t a spambot. Maybe it was a person the kid knew…but I wasn’t sure. One major red flag was that a web url was listed that was for a government site in the UK. I realized that the kids – no longer my students, and with no access to the blog admin panel this summer – are nonetheless vulnerable to predators who may try to contact them through the comments. Sooo…I found a place in feedback.php where I could add a conditional that requires a commenter to be logged in to post a comment. Since nobody but me can log in during summer vacation, no more comments. This was an easy hack. B2evolution hasn’t gotten the spam traffic that Borderland has. B2evo uses a list of spammers that are kept on a central server. It must work good, because we haven’t seen any drug, gambling, or sex spam with the student blogs.

Borderland gets tons of comments. Mostly drugs and gambling spam. Lately there have been shitloads of spam flooding my comments. The WordPress comment spam filters, when running on a not-too restrictive setting, didn’t really stop the spammers. Opening the blog up was like going into my shed to see how much squirrel damage there has been lately. The squirrels leave mushrooms, nesting material, and squirrel shit all over the shed. Cleaning it out is gross. I feel the same about comment spam. So I went looking for a new plugin that would knock the spam down before it got to me.

What I found seems to be working. From the WordPress forums, I found Spam Karma 2. It’s a series of filters that rates the comments on various levels. The filter evaluates something it calls karma points, and responds by either allowing the comment to pass unchallenged, putting it in moderation, presenting the commenter with a captcha, deleting the comment, or blacklistiing the commenter’s domain. It’s working great. But now, instead of going into the site to delete comments, I go to the site to see the SK2 logs and marvel at how many comments I didn’t have to delete myself. I don’t know if I’ve gained anything because I’m still spending time paying attention to comment spam. Just a different kind of attention.

Spamming comments is no different than trespassing as far as I’m concerned. I am especially outraged that anyone would try to take advantage of a child. But whether it’s a human predator or a programmer dumping spam all over the net to increase a page ranking, it amounts to predation all the same. Intent is the difference between criminality and bad manners. I had the thought that I could pose as a kid and respond to the email to see what happened. That may have been interesting, but who wants to wallow in squirrel shit?

SK2 has blocked hundreds of spam attempts in the last week. It’s amazing how many. They’re all logged. It’s like keeping a guard dog that spends the whole day chasing off solicitors. I noticed that there haven’t been any attempts for about 2 days now. But I decided to try an experiment. So I reactivated the Bad Behavior plugin to see if it would intercept the spam before SK2 had a chance. I realize that I may be asking for trouble by having too much filtering going on. But I’m curious. Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Anything is better than wading through squirrel shit. If one guard dog is good, two might be even better.

If I only get comments from spammers, maybe I should just shut the comments off, anyway. What do I lose? At this point, I would lose a new form of idle entertainment swatting swarms of comment spam.

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Beyond Comprehension

Jun 01 2005 Published by under borderland

I attended a memorial service on Monday for the son of a woman who I’ve known for over 20 years. She and I both have adult children who played together when they were in pre-school. We have younger children born in second marriages. We worked together in our first teaching jobs. We live in the same part of the valley. Our kids now go to the same school. She coached my son’s soccer team one season. We see one another periodically and exchange friendly greetings. Old friendships in a small community like ours are like one of the braided rivers we see in the Alaskan interior. The channel parts and meanders, rejoining itself and consolidating downstream in a complex weave of islands and sloughs.

I (and everyone else who knows the family) was shocked last week to learn that her 13 year-old son was killed by a drunk driver who fled the scene. The boy was riding his bike along the side of the road. The driver has been apprehended. Tragedy lies in his wake.

Where don’t my thoughts on this take me? It seems pointless to try to write about something so profoundly beyond my ability to say anything meaningful. But my experience has been shadowed by this event that is so close to home. What lessons can I draw from this? Admiration for the courage of people to continue living in the face of unimaginable grief; despair at the ignorance and stupidity of people who indulge their bad habits and then put the lives of innocent people at risk; anger that the driver of the vehicle was served at a bar before he got in his car to drive off; fear that it could have been one of my own children; awe at the apparent indifference of fate to our hopes and wishes; wonder at the preciousness and fragility of each of our lives; sorrow for the loss of a young life and the pain felt by his family and our community.

Some things are too big, too mysterious to understand.

It’s a time for prayer.

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