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September 2006
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Those of you who have ever seen my appearance on Jeopardy! (no more exclamation points after this) will recall that, during my banter with Alex, I suggest that he and I have something in common: we've both produced a Jeopardy quiz. I did mine in 8th grade at Beaumont Elementary School in Portland, Ore. No possible way to have affordable buzzers for private use in 1966, of course, so we dinged bells and the host (me) had to decide who buzzed first. I had students write the questions, and thus learned a VERY important lesson. If you let students write the questions, don't let them play with the questions they wrote. Larry Wheeler led Miss Blood's class to an enormous victory, based largely on the fact that he submitted more than half the questions (I have tried to find Larry on the Internet, and wrote the person I thought was most likely him, but got no response. Larry, where are you?)

During the 1990s, when Marlow and Rae were in middle and high school, I bought a set of buzzers ($800!) so I could organize Jeopardy games for their classrooms. I never got around to it. When I started teaching myself, I used my buzzers in my own classroom, and either read the questions or projected them using PowerPoint. If I had students write questions, I made sure they weren't answering their own (5th period got 6th period's questions, and so on).

Then, a few years ago, Mrs. S, the teacher across the hall, spotted something called Classroom Jeopardy. If you want to have six players (and we do) a complete set with software and peripherals will run you $1,000. But it is SOOOO amazing. It is basically a specialized Nintendo type game console with wireless buzzers and a PC based question authoring system that burns the game into a cartridge you insert in the back of the console. The sound effects and screen font are identical to those used in real Jeopardy, and it keeps score automatically (one small fault--fixing a scoring error is VERY time consuming). We bought two sets, one for her room and one for mine. TIP: If there's another teacher playing next door, put the antenna completely down and stand next to the control unit; make sure the teacher next door does the same and stands on the opposite side of the room from you.

Bottom line: students love it. They go nuts with enthusiasm when we play. Some of them even study up (which is the point of the game) so they can win (which, while seeming to be the point, is not the point). We pass the buzzers around among teams, so everyone gets to play. We could insist all the responses be in the form of a question, but it seems 8th graders can't handle that, and I'd rather give them points for being right then ding them for imperfect play.

Sure, writing 60 questions of the correct form is hard work, but the payoff is so enormous. As they used to say on College Bowl, "quick recall of facts is no indication of intelligence or education," but was we say in middle school, "anything that gets them to engage the material is good."

Dunn With It

I don't care how many CYA deniability memos your underlings write, assuring you that the means of uncovering your board members' home telephone numbers were "time tested and industry standard." There's a little concept in the law known as the "known or ought to have known" standard (emphasis mine). A college graduate (HP Chairman Dunn and CEO Hurd included) knows enough civics and US History to understand that a government agency may legally subpoena telephone records, but that a corporation may not. Phone calls made from the office are one thing--it's your office, and your phone, and you paid for both, and if you want to be a jerk and comb those records, you can. If you're sitting there in the corner office looking at a list of someone's phone calls made from their home you knew, or ought to know, they were obtained illegally. And if you didn't want to know, do you want to advertise that fact? Does it qualify you to lead a major American corporation?

Besides which "it's legal" is a crappy standard for behavior compared to "is it ethical?" My good friend, the late Edwin Diamond, who taught me journalism, had this simple rule: "If you have to ask, it isn't ethical." Too bad no one ever told Dunn or Hurd that. And now they've gone and ruined a great American corporation's reputation.


by Craig Reynolds

Web 2.0 bubble: its the irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble all over again: Facebook Worth WHAT? "If Yahoo! pays $1 billion for Facebook, we should all be very, very afraid. Or all start social networking sites." $1 Billion for Facebook? LOL! "Facebook's 9.5 million users may be worth six to eight times what News Corp. paid for MySpace's 30 million users last summer... News Corp. paid about $19.33 per user... Sony had purchased video-sharing site Grouper for $65 million, or $70 per user." Mark Cuban says Only a "moron" would buy YouTube. I guess the mergers and acquisitions people are gonna party like its 1999, until it all collapses again.

More on e-vote problems: Avi Rubin's Brave New Ballot fears for democracy, Who's Counting: Hacking Diebold Voting Machines, The Big Gamble on Electronic Voting, Officials Wary of Electronic Voting Machines, Vote check-in glitch is declared fixed (we'll see!), ACM Security Experts Urge Paper Trails for Electronic Voting.

Eco tech: there is good news: Google to Push for More Electrical Efficiency in PC’s current power supply designs date from the 1980's. Honda unveils diesel system to rival gasoline cars: again, ammonia is the "wonder drug" (see last week's item): "Honda... generates and stores ammonia within a two-layer catalytic converter to turn nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen..." Ultracapacitor to the rescue: Gentlemen, stop your engines "EEStor's new automotive power source could eliminate the need for the combustion engine - and for oil" (via 500 Miles on a 5-Minute Recharge?). And there is bad news: A Primeval Tide of Toxins "Runoff from modern life is feeding an explosion of primitive organisms. This 'rise of slime,' as one scientist calls it, is killing larger species and sickening people" (via Joel). Not only is the world the warmest it has been for 12,000 years, it is within 1 degree of the warmest it has been in the past one 1,000,000 years. But don't worry, the Wall Street Journal says its OK, and they know more about it than the climatologists.

Continuing train wreck of laptop battery recalls: the same manufacturing flaw leads to more recalls: Sony battery woes deepen on more PC maker recalls, Dell increases number of recalled batteries and Lenovo, IBM recall 526,000 notebook batteries. Elsewhere in battery tech: Engine on a chip promises to best the battery and Search for a better battery keeps going and going.

Flying robot swarms: MIT's intelligent aircraft fly, cooperate autonomously and UAV SWARM Health Management Project Website (via).

She shells see cells: dispatches from the fringes of cell phone technology. What happens when you throw them away?: Cellphones' second lives are varied and useful. Remote deactivation: Screaming cell phones plan to cut down theft. Making music: A Symphony for Cell Phones, this was tried back in 2001: Dialtones (A Telesysphony).

Technobits: Taking passwords to the grave --- Calif. cable-TV market opened to phone companies --- Folding@home for GPUs --- First pictures of Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 tourist spacecraft interior (more, more) --- space elevator precursor --- Woz speaks: Co-founder tells his side of Apple story --- 'Disappearing' lakes may dot Titan --- Dino-Era Bird Flew With Four Wings, Study Says --- and now for something completely different: an elephant painted to match the wall paper (more).

All The King's Men

4 stars

As usual, I made the mistake of reading other people's reviews before seeing this film, and they were mixed, so I went in expecting, at best, a 3 or 3.5 star film. Imagine my surprise at being impressed. It wasn't just Sean Penn, Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins, all of whom have impressed me individually in the past. It was the ensemble, the script and directing of Steven Zaillian (from the Robert Penn Warren novel) that came together for me. It's been so long since I saw the 1949 Best Picture version with Broderick Crawford I can no longer remember the details (I am going to see it as soon as I can). Suffice it to say that I like the political part, the romance part and the pacing--in short, almost everything except the length. Two hours! Less please.

Of course the film raises the whole question of whether some films need to be remade, but that's a Pandora's box, so I won't go there.

Tom Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa Links: Star Wars Shortened part 1 and part 2Playing volleyball across US-Mexico fenceSecrets of Disney's Haunted Mansion attractionTokyo Rose (aka Orphan Ann) Dies at 90Hogwarts matchsticks… For my friend Paul Schindler [thank you Tom!] -- Vintage BBC broadcasting equipment - photos5000 years of Middle East history in 90 secondsMillionaire marries sixth wife... his own daughter"I have monkeys in my pants" 'nuff said.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Gary Hart, one of our excellent ex-presidential candidates, predicts an October Surprise. He concludes:
    For a divinely guided president who imagines himself to be a latter day Winston Churchill (albeit lacking the ability to formulate intelligent sentences), and who professedly does not care about public opinion at home or abroad, anything is possible, and dwindling days in power may be seen as making the most apocalyptic actions necessary.
  • Your Media At Work
  • The Republican'ts attempt to rewrite history: Who wanted to cut and run from Somalia?
  • Molly Ivins, in case you didn't know it, is battling breast cancer and has been since 1999.