This evening, I live streamed the
Speical Meeting of the Woodbridge Board of Education from my Nokia N900 cellphone. The audio quality isn't the best, there are jiggles from not having a tripod, and occasional background noise from other processes on the cellphone, but here it is.
The bottom line is that the budget passed, with modifications. I'll provide more details in a subsequent blog post.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year. Happy New Decade (depending on how you count). That special kiss at midnight. Yes, 2009 was a rough year, and 2010 is starting off great. It seems like that is often the case for any new beginning.
I remember the beginning of 2009, the jubilation about the election of Barack Obama as President; the inauguration, the discussions with friends. Yet as the year progressed, life, and death, got in the way. One friend lost his battle with Leukemia. Another who had welcomed 2009 with so much joy and enthusiasm started her battle with Leukemia and didn’t live to see the end of the year. One friend tragically lost her brother. Many people struggled financially, and it seemed like our political process ground to a halt as some people obstructed any efforts to make our country better, or even wished for the failure of our country and its leader.
I remember back at a freshman orientation in college, the head of the college counseling center telling the assembled class that many people come to college intent on turning over a new leaf, and then, soon, fall back into the same old habits. It seems that the same is the case for New Year’s resolutions. We come into the New Year with high hopes, only to have life get in the way.
In an email that I received from a political organizer today, she suggested setting goals. People break resolutions, yet they achieve goals. An email from a psychologist observed that every moment is the opportunity for a new beginning, and while it is great to join with others on making new beginnings on New Year’s Day, we can make a new beginning any day.
This leads me back to another story I remember from college. A student had gone on some school sponsored trip, making a pilgrimage to the cathedrals from Paris to Santiago. He came back a changed man and spoke at alumni gatherings about his experience. At the end of one such gathering, an elderly alumnus stood up and shook his finger at the young man saying, “You know what’s wrong with you? You don’t have any goals.”
The young man replied, “No, I have one goal, to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous”. This isn’t the sort of concrete goal that my political organizer friend had in mind, but it is a great goal, and it captures some of the idea of my psychologist friend about every moment being an opportunity for a new beginning.
Another story I remember from the professor that told me about the student and the pilgrimage was in an aesthetics course when he made a comment about “museum runners”; those people who quickly move through the museum, pausing a predetermined amount of time in front of famous pictures, but perhaps not really seeing anything at all. It seems like this fits in with the young pilgrims story. To live more fully, we need to slow down. We need to appreciate the beautiful snow outside, even though we know that our commute might be more difficult tomorrow. Who knows, if we manage to stop for a moment and appreciate the beauty in our lives around us, if we perhaps even manage to contribute a little bit to that beauty, then we have a good chance of also living a little bit more lovingly.
So, I will spend time worrying about where the next paycheck comes from. I will struggle with my writing, my politics, my technology, my marketing, my education, my socializing and all the other things that go into this blog. Yet most importantly, I will try to slow down, to just say no to museum running and trying to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous.
How about you? What will 2010 bring? I hope it brings a Happy New Year.
Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about the Nokia N900. This is Nokia’s latest cellphone or Internet Table, which is actually a pretty nice little computer. I’ve been testing out what works and what doesn’t, and one of the most interesting projects has been trying to get Squeak running on it.
Squeak is a modern, open source, full-featured implementation of the powerful Smalltalk programming language and environment. Squeak is highly-portable - even its virtual machine is written entirely in Smalltalk making it easy to debug, analyze, and change. Squeak is the vehicle for a wide range of projects from multimedia applications, educational platforms to commercial web application development.
One project for Squeak was Etoys.
Etoys is an educational tool for teaching children powerful ideas in compelling way, a media-rich authoring environment and visual programming system, and a free software program that works on almost all personal computers.
It is also the basis for Scratch,
Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.
The other day, I downloaded the source code for Squeak and compiled it in my Scratchbox on my Linux laptop. It compiled cleanly, and I moved it over to my N900. It ran fine there, with the exception of the screen being so small that it was hard to get much of anything done. You can download my zipped tar file at http://www.orient-lodge.com/squeak/Squeak-126.96.36.1995-linux_armv71.tar.gz. If you unzip the file, change to the Squeak-188.8.131.525-linux_armv71 and run ./squeak.sh passing a valid image file, you should get Squeak running on your N900.
The first image file that I tried was a copy of the Squeak3.9 image. You can get a zipped version of that from my site at http://www.orient-lodge.com/squeak/squeak3.9.image.gz. It should be a pretty clean image, but I was testing around in it, so if things are a little off, it might be a residual of my testing.
The second image that I tried was the Etoys image. As I write this post, the etoys website is down, so I can’t link back to the original source. My etoys image is at http://www.orient-lodge.com/squeak/etoys.image.gz. I was pleased to see the little car driving around on the front page, but again frustrated at the smallness of the font.
Today, I tried a third image, http://www.orient-lodge.com/squeak/Scratch.image.gz. I lifted this image from the Linux Installer for Scratch. This came up the same way that Scratch came up on my Linux laptop. In this case some of the font was small and hard to read, and some of the workspace spilled off of the screen.
The N900 is much more expensive than the OLPC, and there is still a lot of work necessary to get the Squeak/Etoys/Scratch, or even more interesting version in OpenCroquet or OpenCobalt running on N900s, but the potential is there, and it looks very interesting.
Are there others out there interested in exploring Smalltalk, Squeak, and the many different images available to see what can be done with it on the N900? Drop me a note if you’re interested.
Last night, the Woodbridge Board of Education had its monthly meeting, which included the presentation of the proposed 2010/2011 budget. The meeting started off with a ‘non-meeting’ where I believe legal issues that the board needs to consider were presented. When the regular meeting started they moved directly into an extended executive session which the agenda listed as to ‘Review Personnel Staffing Issues’.
Although many people had read the proposed budget ahead of time, as well as discussed it at other opportunities, after the executive session Dr. Stella spent time explaining some of the factors going into the budget. Gavel to gavel coverage of the Board of Education meeting will be available on the Woodbridge Government Access Channel as well as on DVD from the public library. A brief clip, recorded with my Nokia N900 is included here.
Various options for further reductions in the budget were discussed including additional reductions in the number of teachers, seeking to end the agreement with the Wintergreen Magnet School or reducing the GASB funding. The reduction of GASB funding would be a short term, and perhaps short sighted effort to deal with the budget. Attempting to end the agreement with the Wintergreen Magnet School would perhaps be even more short sighted because it appears to be a highly efficient way of not only meeting particular needs of certain students, but also fulfilling various school district obligations. The current budget calls for one less teacher and one less teaching assistant. There was a good discussion about the pros and cons of additional cuts to staff.
When it came time for reviewing the administration’s monthly financial reports, again, some members of the board abstained from voting. This has been going on for a few months, and I believe it is irresponsible. With that, I presented a public comment at the end of the meeting. Below, you will find my remarks as prepared for delivery. I tempered them a little bit given the good discussion that had been had about the budget.
It is a desire as old as human kind, to make the imagined real. Pygmalion imagined a woman that he then sculpted, fell in love with, and in the end, the gods granted his sculpture life. Perhaps it is some of this drive to make the imagined real that is responsible for the success of great artists making that which they imagine real in the form of their artwork, and the success of great politicians making that which they imagine real in terms of reforms to make the world a better place.
To me, the ability to take ones imagination into a piece of technology and make something real is an important part of what makes good technology interesting. It is part of the requirement I placed on my older daughters. They could play any computer game they could create. It is part of why I’m so interested in the N900 as a phone where I can easily create new applications.
Yet perhaps the place where this is most important to me is in computer games. Years ago, the text based virtual worlds that I found most interesting where those that gave the most opportunity to create. LambdaMOO was a great example followed by Second Life as we moved to three dimensional games. These were virtual worlds where adults could create things that they imagined. OpenSim became even more interesting as a virtual world where there was even more opportunity to create.
So, I started my kids programming in Logo. I introduced them to SmallTalk and its variants, with Squeak EToys being my current interest.
As a general rule, I’ve disliked many of the commercially produced games, especially those that target kids. They are too mind numbing and there aren’t enough opportunities for creativity.
Yet the other day, I read a press release for Shidonni. “Shidonni, winner of the 2009 Parents' Choice Website Gold Award, is an online community designed for children ages 6-12 that focuses on nurturing children's creativity and imagination.”
The website had a video introducing Shidonni:
The idea of a virtual world where kids can draw their own pets, worlds, as well as food and clothing for the pets is very appealing. A downside is that it uses Microsoft’s Silverlight, which limits the machines it can run on. I did manage to get it loaded onto an old Linux Laptop that I have, but it ran incredibly slowly.
Yet the idea of kids being able to draw their own pets and worlds is a great starting point. What if you could take a drawing of a pet and have a stuffed animal created from the drawing?
Pretty Cool. However, at $79.99, it is pretty expensive. That’s over twice as expensive as many of the high end webkins, and ten times as expensive as some of the lower priced webkins.
However, when Fiona saw the one-of-a-kind Shidonni animals, she of course wanted one right away. She offered to chip in some of her savings. I told her that she should save up for it.
So, besides learning about the joy of creativity, she may also learn the value of waiting and the value of a buck. All of them are great lesson. So, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Shidonni and encourage any of my readers with kids in the six to twelve year old range to consider doing the same thing.
What do you have found for cool online tools to encourage creativity?