CLMOOC Central: My Personal Dashboard

Curation is a tall ask when engaging engaging in any large scale, online community/course like CLMOOC. With so much activity being generated by so many individuals, it is easy to feel both overwhelmed and overwrought with remarkable rapidity. One of the ways I like to bind multiple streams into a manageable means of content control is through the power of RSS and a digital dashboard.

There are still a few digital dashboard services, despite the loss of some heavyweights, like iGoogle and Pageflakes, both of which were really good products actually. I settled on Netvibes some time ago and continue to use it.

The advantage of using a dashboard like Netvibes is that you can easily run a number of data streams onto a single page in the for of widgets, allowing for quick scanning of multiple information sources in a single page view with minimal scrolling. Widget sizes can be altered to fit, as well as page layouts to reduce the need to scroll or accommodate more widgets. While I am making this page public and available to anyone with the address, it is a fairly easy set-up.

  1. Begin by registering for a Netvibes account.
  2. Once logged in click New… in the Dashboards drop-down menu in upper right corner. Enter the keyword(s) that you wish to track (I entered CLMOOC 2014).
  3. A number of pre-defined widgets will appear on the page (alter as desired).
    • Click the arrow-head to the right of the tab title for a drop-down menu that includes the page layout, how the widgets will be displayed.
    • Clicking the Green +Add button in the upper-left corner will reveal a all kinds of widget possibilities, many leveraging RSS.

I added the webpage widget along the top of the tab, partly because it looked cool with the logo, but also because I can scroll within the widget frame and see announcements quickly and easily.

I ran the Twitter and Google+ feeds off to the right, along the top to instantly scan the the most current information. What is really nice is that Netvibes has already done the work for collecting a Google+ stream, despite it not generating an RSS feed. So no extra work required there.

Below the fold, requiring some scrolling, I added the image feeds from Flickr, Picasa, and Instagram to browse the various memes and visuals created as part of the CLMOOC experience. Additionally, I paired the images with a widget gathering all the videos tagged in YouTube and Vimeo.

I can add other RSS feeds later, say like Diigo or Delicious if that proves to be a highly used tool for collecting sites and resources. I can even add a blogroll like widget if I like to track posts from select participants once things get rolling.

The one drawback is that the widgets are stuck streaming in reverse chronological order, so there is no real filter other than the most current content rising to the top. Still, a dashboard like this is great when you want to take the temperature of a highly active effort. A quick scan can help you get up-to-date in a hurry. This example will no doubt evolve as CLMOOC unfolds.

Lastly, I can’t say that I completely came up with this idea on my own. It is actually a bit of a hack based on something I learned from Steve Hargadon in the earliest days of the Classroom 2.0 Ning (way back in the olden times of 2008). Still, this seemed a pretty easy early How to Guide for creating something that can be a useful tool in the sometimes chaotic MOOC experience.

DS106 Week 4 – Design: A Sansing Sprint

Inspired by my Slaughterhouse IV bunkmate Chad Sansing, I composed a Design Assignment Sprint. I spent a lot of time in tinkering in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, which always leaves me wishing I could do more than I actually can.

Originally, I was eager to do the Minimalist Travel Poster Based on a Movie. The samples were so good. I was inspired. As I was thinking of places, I grew a little ironic and thought I would use the TARDIS from Doctor Who. While not exactly a travel destination, in and of itself, it is definitely a means to travel anywhere. That put me on a bit of a Doctor Who kick as I began playing around with different images.

I started working in Illustrator on the Minimalist Television/Movie Poster idea, working in simple block colors and trying to get essentially silhouette like blocks. To do this I snagged an full front image of the TARDIS from the web and used it to trace a series of rectangular shapes on another layer. Most of the work was using shapes occasionally switching to the pen tool for the mullions in the windows. Once I got the top third of it looking good, I was happy since I already had a layout idea.

Doctor Who Television Poster

For this piece, I wanted to keep things limited to as few colors as I could. The obvious color was the TARDIS blue, which required a little trial and error, because I wanted something a little greener with a distinctly unmistakable quality. Then I opted for a dark grey, not absolute black for the background, mostly because I thought it softened the contrast nicely.

It was at this point that I thought it would be kind of slick to have the light atop blazing. That just required some quick work with the one tool. Then I screened the opacity to make it actually look more like light projecting.

I considered adding some clever text, like “It’s bigger on the inside” or “Will take you anywhere in time and space,” but then scrapped the idea, liking the stark look like the example. Plus, I wanted it to be instantly obvious what the show was, but present in an interesting way.

From there, I completed my partial TARDIS in Illustrator so that I had a good block image of the whole thing from the front. I considered using a slightly turned view, with two visible sides, for the Travel Poster. However, that was going to be a whole lot more work, considering all multiplicity of angles that would be involved. I am sure that if I had more skills it would have been a lot faster and easier, but I am still working at that.

As you can see, I actually built a simplified Illustrator version of the poster, almost like a sketch. It also gave me a lot of the raw material that I would need to use in Photoshop. So, I kind of completed this assignment twice, as seems to be a habit of mine. It’s good practice, so I don’t mind so much.

TARDIS Travel Poster (sketch)

Once I had the completed Illustrator version, I started porting items over into Photoshop. For the Travel Poster, I wanted to have a much richer, textured quality than the stark version of the Television Poster look. To achieve the look, I started playing around with spray brush settings to splatter and dirty up the TARDIS image, which I dropped in as a primary layer. I also wanted there to be a sort of thematic visual continuity that echoed the stars.

TARDIS Travel Poster

For the background, I actually did a quick Google search for “cosmos,” grabbing a simple star-filled image. I imported it into Photoshop, stripped it of color, and tiled the image across the entire background layer. Once I had the starry look, I went back to the TARDIS and touched it up a little so that it didn’t disappear into the background. These two layers served as the primary components of the image.

This piece was definitely going to incorporate text, and I definitely took my inspiration from the Star Wars example. I tried to keep the font as clean and simple as I could, going with a sans serif like the Police Box lettering. The Police Box font was just Myriad Pro, which looked near perfect. Yet for the poster lettering at the bottom I chose Franklin Gothic Medium. It has a bolder and beefier look for the larger size I needed. I made sure that the spacing for both lines of text matched up in terms of length and used a simple horizontal line to break the text up clearly.

After pasting them from Illustrator into Photoshop, I used the wand tool to select all the letters by color so that I could use the same brush technique to splatter the letter fill. I switched between an orange and red, warmer colors to compliment the TARDIS blue I used. The coloring is even inspired by the recent show logo that was used for the newer series. The logo got a TARDIS-like makeover since Matt Smith took over the role.

One minor issue I toyed with was messing about with the background behind the lettering a little. I am not sure that it made that much difference, but I was trying to diffuse the starts and lettering some.

The last thing I did was throw off the symmetry, tilt the TARDIS to the right and arbitrary amount. I thought it was funny, in a supremely nerdy way to set the arbitrary amount at pi, 3.14.

If I count the two versions of the travel poster, that left me in need of another assignment. So I opted for more minimalism with an attempt at Iconic You.

Icon of Me

Although I have recently shaved at my daughter’s request, I generally have a beard or goatee. The goatee made for a better iconic look. Again, I used Illustrator, just some basic oval shapes and the pen tool. At this point I was getting a bit better using them. This ended up being a little more Homer-ish than I intended, but it got laughs from both my wife and daughter. My wife was the one who suggested I throw in the frown lines that are deep and seemingly permanent in my fivehead.

Chasing the Daily in DS106 Daily Create

It was a bit of a challenge, but I have successfully completed at least five Daily Create items this week. With the school year ending, I am just racing trying to finish things while still attempting to keep pace with DS106 and be a good camper. Camp Magic Macguffin has definitely been occupying a lot of my brain space. That’s for sure.

My first photograph for the week was an shot incorporating water, stone, and clouds. It wasn’t actually the most original or creative of approaches, but it was the first of the week, and I just wanted to take a first step. I shot this with an iPad on a wet morning at the end of a street where a stone wall separates a cul de sac and cemetery. It was pretty gray, so the clouds were not quite as vivid as I might have liked, but I just wanted to get the first shot quickly and easily without going to any locally exotic locations.

View From a New England Street

One day this week, my co-teacher and I took our journalism students on a walk down through the main street of town and, I brought one of our digital SLRs. I took this shot while waiting for a few students to order pizza. The camera was pretty unfamiliar and I was using a lot of automatic presets. Still, I was able to get these flowers in a flower box with only the closest in focus, although I am not sure how obvious it is. That makes this a pretty but not necessarily completely successful shot, even though most of the frame is out of focus.

DSC_0004

Just a few feet from the previous shot, I changed the angle and captured this antique storefront. While there are plenty of interesting things outside the shop, I liked the weathered sign, despite it not being all that old, especially considering how old the town is. I was trying to work with thirds in this image on a basic level. Then I started playing around some in Photoshop. I settled on the cyanotype option with a hue/saturation adjustment layer. I just liked how it wasn’t black and white or sepia, but still gave the image an old-fashioned look.

Country Store Cyanotype

Again faced with nothing but an iPad as a capture device, I snapped this image of the city hall. It might not be the oldest building, but it is definitely old. Plus, a lot of the oldest building in the old New England factory town where I live were actually made of wood. Consequently, there are a lot of buildings that are no longer extant. Plus, many just don’t always look quite as old as they actually are, either from remodeling or the simplicity of their design.

The hardest thing about this shot was getting the angle where the tower would appear without being chopped at the top. I had to flip portrait style shot, to make it fit, even though I tried landscape from a number of different angles. One of the problems is that there just isn’t enough room on the other side of the street to get the whole building in a landscape frame.

Since, it was shot on an iPad and the quality can be lacking, although the light was really strong in this shot, I decided to mess about with it to mask any weaker aspects. I used a forgotten tool on the iPad, the app Pixlromatic. With a handful of simple filters and effects, I used the Bob filter, which washed out the color a little, giving that steely, blue hue and saturated quality. Additionally, I added the scratches effect to cover any imperfections in the shooting. Lastly, I framed it with the Cornered option, which adds that roughed-out negative carrier look.

City Hall - Aged

Lastly, rope wasn’t really an easy option, but considering an everyday knot in a different context was workable. So, I chose a close-up on the knot of my Liverpool FC shoes. The Liverbird medal ended up proving a counter-balance to the knot at the top of the frame. Since rediscovering some of the cool effects of Pixlromatic, I opted to use it again to compensate for some of the low lighting and noise that can be present in iPad photography.

This time I used the Antonio filter which blackened out the edges a little, although adding the Vignette lighting effect also enhanced the central focus. Then in a contrasting effort, I framed everything with the Peri effect, which made provided a white frame with a messier print edges.

In Knots Over LFC

More than anything, this weeks photography material and the increase in Daily Create requirements has made me consider common, everyday things in a far more interesting and visual way. I am actively trying to see things in a slightly different and mindful way.

Plus, I have been trying to work with any limitations of the the original shots. If the original shot is not as great, I like the challenge of looking for solutions with some of the tools in a way that still amplify some creativity. Sometimes errors, mistakes, or imperfections can be a springboard for artistic solutions.

Messing About with Mood in Image Composites

Taking another stab at visual assignments, I opted for Switch up the Mood, mostly because I had a few photographs that I had taken with a colleague’s top-shelf digital SLR camera the other day. Consequently, shooting in RAW format, I would be able to crop with much greater ease.

In my first attempt I was really playing around with filters more than anything. I am not even sure that I really accomplished the assignment, at least how it was intended. Mood is kind of an ephemeral thing and perhaps this wasn’t the best image to use. Still, it was worth the experience of playing in Photoshop.

Four Flags Mood Composite

I started with the original image in the upper-left corner, very little adjustments made, save a few auto touch-ups correcting the color, contrast, and tone.

One of the initial problems was determining how large the final composite image would be and doing some of the basic calculations. Mat is not my strong suit, but I knew I was going to quadruple the original image size, even though I was going to do some cropping too for the additional versions of the image. This helped determine the aspect ratio that I would use in the cropped images.

At that point, I just started playing around with adjustment layers in a separate, mock-up window. In the upper-right corner, I was going for an older, darker feel with the cropped version of the two flags. So I played with the exposure settings to get darker tones and deeper contrast. I also toyed with the hue and saturation to pump up the color saturation. I even used a photo filter to enrich some of the warmer colors.

In the lower-right corner, I mostly amped up the saturation and pushed the red color as much as I could without completely distorting the image. I wanted the colors to be brighter and more vibrant, kind of overly rich reds. It was meant to be a riff of the original shot.

In the lower-left image, I had played around so much that I was kind of filtered out and wanted to drain a lot of color out of it. I didn’t really want to go black and white with a full grayscale. So I used a black and white filter, but then kept pushing out the gray until I got the stark, simple black and white look, kind of like old newspaper prints, which seemed fitting for the subject of an antique shop full of old items.

Playing around with all of the filters got a little overwhelming at some point. Without really knowing what I am doing other than trial and error, it does highlight the need to keep track of what I am doing to achieve certain effects. Otherwise, I would never be able to replicate the intended effect.

One of my original ideas was to just riff off of the red, white, and blue scheme in the flags, so I thought I would make another attempt. THe second time I simplified even further, again beginning with the original image. This time I chose to use the same cropping for the other three parts of the composite. This seemed appropriate since I was already thinking of working with three color tints.

Four Flags Mood Composite 2

This effort proved to be a lot faster and simpler. I had already been playing with the cyanotype option in the hue/saturation adjustment layer. So that produced a nice blue-tinted version. Thus, to get the red image I used the same adjustment layer with the cyanotype setting, but then adjusted the hue setting until I got the red look I wanted. The black and white image was adding the adjustment layer of the same name. Then I made a couple of minor adjustments to the contrast.

In each of these images, I had to work with each of the images on separate layers. So I would basically mock-up the look I wanted in a separate window, only to paste them into the window where the final image would be built.

In order to get all the adjustment layers and looks, I would have to flatten the mock-up version before copying and pasting into the final image window. That was a lesson re-learned for me, since I had forgotten some of those little wrinkles.

Originally, chasing some stars in the assignments, I had not at all considered doing the same assignment more than once. It just kind of worked out that way, because I don’t think I was completely satisfied with my original attempt. Also, I did want to see if I could do the red, white, and blue thing relatively easily and quickly, more as proof to myself than anything.

I know just enough about Photoshop to make me dangerous and routinely get frustrated knowing that there is definitely a way to achieve the look I have dreamt up in my head, despite not necessarily knowing which combination of options to use to make it happen.

Still, these were opportunities to explore some of the tools and options that are available. Plus, it was a great reminder of the importance of narrating the work, in part as a way of keeping track of what and how I am getting certain results, even if sometimes they are happy accidents.

Diving into the DS106 Pool and Camping Magic Macguffin Style – Part 2

Watching Michael Wesch‘s lecture “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able” (part 1 and part 2) was a great return to some  thought provoking material for me. I had the fortune of meeting Wesch briefly and seeing an earlier version of this lecture a couple of years a go at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston.

It was the first time I got to go to the conference and Wesch was the whole reason that I fought for my district to send me. I had seen all his videos, read a lot of his work on his blog, and couldn’t wait to see what he would present. He presented what must have been an early version of this talk.

There is something heartrendingly beautiful about his story of spending time in Papua New Guinea and it being the harbinger of everything he knows about the Internet. In watching the video, the irony of his experience is what I continue to find so amazing. I sometimes believe that we live in a time of enormous paradoxes. AT&T used to have an ad campaign with the catchphrase, “In a world full of technology, people make the difference.” And they do. Wesch poignantly highlights this, as he explains how he was curled up on the floor of a remote hut coming to grips with his own identity crisis.

Yet, in true classical story form, it was only in a completely distant, foreign context that he could make the necessary discoveries to return with insight. Much that is old is indeed new again, or perhaps, paradoxically continues to remain new.

Image: Harold and the Purple CrayonOur mediated existences help form and refine our identities. For many of us, the medias we choose to engage are the contexts in which we find ourselves always, perpetually emerging. We can take up the challenge of reading and writing our world into existence, in true Harold fashion with crayon in hand, or we can allow our choices to be dictated to us without even knowing, like the fish who is unaware he lives in water.

To me these are some of the themes at the core of what Wesch describes in the pursuit of Knowledge-ability. The most heartbreaking aspect is that without mindful awareness of our choices and reconciliation of their impact on our identity, we all run the risk of looking back on what we have wrought and hating it, much like some of those individual that “reformed” that small village in Papua New Guinea that Wesch observed.

Diving into the DS106 Pool and Camping Magic Macguffin Style – Part 1

Image: DS106 Jolly Roger Logo      Image: Camp Magic Macguffin Logo

Already having my own domain and website, as well as nearly all of the requisite social media accounts, completing Week 1 of DS106 Camp Magic Macguffin was a pretty easy thing to start. The bulk of the first week is all about situating oneself to the Web 2.0 environment in preparation for an exploration of both digital storytelling but also the new media reality in which most of us find ourselves.

Despite all of this, I am already running a little behind the pace, but I didn’t really start in earnest until Thursday, May 24. So I won’t be too hard on myself.

I learned about DS106 during its initial open run. In fact, the last few years I have become endlessly fascinated by Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in general. I have been following the work of some of the pioneers like Alec Couros, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier for years. In fact, I am almost positive I discovered the original iteration DS106 through Stephen Downes’ Online Learning Daily.

The main reason why I teach is because I am a confessed learning junkie. I have become a bit of a MOOC junkie too, tracking many different ones, participating in some, floundering often, and slowly but surely getting a stronger sense of how better to self-direct and manage my own path through one. They are definitely not for the faint of heart. Then again maybe they are.

For me, the problem is always the surplus. I desperately want to drink from the firehouse, all the while knowing that is not really a viable possibility. Still, it hasn’t stopped me from trying. With each dive into the stream, however, I have taken a little something from the experience that has helped me the next time.

Another problem has always been the fact that I am perpetually enrolled in at least one professional development course for the credit chase needed to advance my salary where I work. Regardless, I have been getting much better in how I partake in the grand online educational smorgasbord, in spite of the additional course and work loads.

Truth is I love the idea MOOCs and have grown to be even stronger fans of the people who are building them.

So I finally felt it time to jump into the DS106 mix when Magic Camp Macguffin was ready to launch its maiden voyage. Plus, I am working to construct an online digital storytelling course of my own designed for high school students specifically, inspired by the likes of Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and the rest. Thus, there was never a better time for me to start playing too.

More to come…

April Fool’s, Joke’s on New England

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Well April arrived in New England with a sense of humor, as a small snowstorm moved in overnight, leaving us with about four inches of heavy snow to welcome spring. Fortunately, it did not cause too much trouble and it was well expected for a few days. It was an awfully pretty drive into work to be sure. Everything had the look of being dusted with a decent amount of powdered sugar.

It did, however, make for the best packing snow of the season. So, Hadley finally got to make a snowman or, in this case, a snow woman. She has been asking all winter. Every time she awoke to new snow she desperately wanted to make a snowman or have a snowball fight. Yet no previous snowfalls had left us with quality packing snow, until today.

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Needless to say the kids quite enjoyed the day. Plus, it was not terribly cold, so they could get some quality playing in for the day, at least until they got too wet. Apparently, Fritz was the first one to have enough and proceeded to wait by the door, which ended the fort building festivities.

Photo: Dining Together on Radioactive Snow Photo: Snow Fort

Still, fun was had by all and it will likely be the last of the snow for the season. The temperature is supposed to rise nearly to the fifties in the next couple of days. Even by the end of the night quite a bit had already melted.

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My First Major Publication

A few weeks ago I mentioned that earlier this year I had my first essay published in an actual book, which was kind of a cool experience. The book is entitled The Pressures of Teaching and it can be bought in stores, although chances are better online. You can even preview a copy of it, although my chapter is not available in the preview.

What is even kind of cooler, however, is that the publisher, Kaplan, will be running an ebook promotion, beginning Tuesday, January 4. So anyone with a Nook, Kindle, iPad, or eReader can download a copy free for a limited time. I am sure that it will even work on an iTouch or computer with a proper ebook app, although all of the details are not yet available.

I should mention that I already got paid for my contribution and receive no additional compensation or royalties from the publisher for sales of the book. However, I would be delighted to hear what people think of the work.

Lastly, in another promotional effort the editor, Maureen Picard Robins, has begun a blog with the same title. As luck would have it, the first post she wrote references my essay, which also is pretty cool.

So, if you get a chance, download it on Tuesday and have a read. As I mentioned, I would love to hear what you think.

Pre-First Night Trip to Boston

One of the local events that is a huge draw in Boston is First Night, an elaborate New Year’s Eve celebration of the culture and community of the city. While many other cities and towns across the nation now hold First Night festivities, Boston is the original and standard bearer. It is really quite grand and kicks off well before midnight, starting around 9AM and carrying through to midnight fireworks.

One of the cooler features are the marvelous ice sculptures, no pun intended. They are enormous and beautifully ornate. Since heading downtown with 2 million other people really isn’t in the cards for us. So while I was busy completing some work, Keri and Ali packed up the kids and headed east to see if they could catch a glimpse of the sculptures the day before the official unveiling.

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The trip on the train was apparently quite fascinating for our little man, as revelaed by the intense studying visible in this photograph.

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Unfortunately, the trip proved to be less than fulfilling on the ice sculpture front. Since the weather has started to warm a bit, it would seem that preservation is of major importance. Also there was some work still to be done. Consequently, most of what they got to see was this.

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Ali sardonically referred to this part of the trip as “Gumdrop.” This is a kind of kidsafe code for an excrement expletive, as well as being a reference to one of our infamous exploits to exotic local sights. Sadly in the transitioning this site to a new platform, the images from the original post have been lost. I’ll have to look into digging some of those photos out again.

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Nevertheless, they all managed to still have some fun. Hadley got to walk around the city and covered a whole lot of ground. It proved to be quite a journey for both of the kiddos. They were pretty wiped out from it all.

Reflecting on the Rebuild

I have to say that having a few days to tinker and rebuild fritzwinkle.com has been a bit of a joy. It has been something that I have been wanting to do for sometime.

Over the summer, I conceived of making a big switch and redoing the whole thing, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I got busy doing other things and, for the first time in awhile, just trying to enjoy some of the summer free from work. Of course, I did get myself involved in somethings that took up some time too.

Unfortunately, I had made some miscalculations with the domain name, which rendered everything offline for a bit. That forced me to have to go into a waiting mode, until that got itself worked out. I also have a tendency to get myself quite wrapped up in various projects and classes while teaching full time, as well. This has always made maintaining the site a challenge.

On the plus side, I have been riding a little bit of a website development wave. From tuning things with the various sites I have been using with students, as well as developing the new sites for both the Massachusetts Writing Project and Boston Writing Project. These autumn activities made for a quicker transition once I had everything ready. Plus, I had a lot more knowledge and understanding at the forefront of my mind since I was using it more regularly. This made it kind of fun and it didn’t take forever, which best of all.

Photo: Fall Kids

Fall Kids at Play

Now, as always, I just hope I can keep things updated and fresh, which has always been a challenge.