Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crowdsourcing Analyzed

Here's the Prezi presentation that I put together on Crowdsourcing and presented on 10/28/10. It doesn't include the information about prediction markets that I'd hoped, but it's a good start on the subject.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Computer Animation

Luxo Jr., by Pixar
Computer animation in films continues to make remarkable progress.  I remember seeing Luxo Jr. shortly after it was first released by Pixar in 1986 at an animation film festival that screened at Stanford University.   I was fascinated by the technology, and briefly thought about taking my studies in that direction before having a really difficult time in a computer graphics course.

Brigham Young University is now at the forefront of developing computer animated films, at its Center for Animation, a collaboration between the College of Engineering and Technology, College of Fine Arts and Communications, and College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Algorithmic Art

A fractal by Peter Raedschelders
Can computers generate art?  Can an algorithm be represented visually in a way that could be termed artistic or even beautiful?

The field of digital art, in which digital technology is used in some critical part of the creative process, dates back to the 60s when Frieder Nake began exhibiting his works in Germany.  Today, there are many different subfields of digital art, one of which is algorithmic art, in which the focus is on creating algorithms that a computer uses to generate art.


While the Wikipedia article on Modernism is very useful (especially the historical summary), it is also long and detailed (Don't let me stop you from exploring it!). I wanted to find some succinct sources that epitomized Modernism for our course. Here are two. One is a very readable PowerPoint presentation I discovered by searching SlideShare (by Maria Teresa Ciaffaroni). The other is a handout from a 2008 course on Modernism taught by Sarah Brouillette I discovered by searching MIT's OpenCourseWare (after the break). Please browse through the SlideShare presentation, perhaps using some of the themes or people mentioned in the presentation as beginning points for your own self-directed learning.
How do these various aspects of modernism relate to our digital civilization today? Are we suffering a comparable sense of a loss of tradition? Does the technology that drives so much of our culture today confirm or challenge traditional systems? How does art play a role? Has it succumbed to mechanization and mass consumer culture (the concern of Walter Benjamin or Theodor Adorno)? Chime in. Don't forget to read past the break for that summary list from MIT.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Course Project

This post is intended to give you an overview of what we're expecting for your course project for the Digital Civilization class.  You will be completing your project in teams of about four students and working on this project throughout the second half of the semester. Remember that we plan to have a showcase for all the final projects on the evening of December 9th (a Thursday).

As explained below, your project should
  1. be an authentic task
  2. belong to one of the history of civilization content areas we list below
  3. draw upon the historical context of Western Civilization, and 
  4. use some of the digital media tools and digital culture concepts we have explored during the first part of the semester.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cory Doctorow on self-publishing

I heard an interesting interview with Cory Doctorow about self-publishing on NPR's All Tech Considered today.  Some of the things he does to step outside the box of a traditional publisher:
  • publishes his work online using a Creative Commons license
  • uses Facebook and Twitter to build an audience
  • creates an online community to edit for typos and give tips on packaging and shipping
  • sells copies at traditional book stores
  • provides print-on-demand with Lulu, four different covers
  • gives attribution to readers if they fix a typo, providing their name in a footnote
  • solicits donations
  • sells limited-edition hardcovers, hand-sewn, with an SD card audio book and extra material bound into the book
  • sells audio CDs
  • sells stories for a commission on a mutually-agreeable subject
  • supplements his income with deals to write a novel
Doctrow states that he will make as much money, or more, as he would with a traditional publisher for his short story collections.   He thinks he will net $70,000 to $80,000 on his new book of short stories.

More on biologically-inspired computing

Gideon posted earlier on genetic algorithms used in computing.  Today I saw this fascinating article on how bees can solve the Traveling Salesman problem better than computers.  The Traveling Salesman problem is essentially this: given a set of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once?  Or put in terms of bees collecting pollen: given a set of flowers, what is the shortest possible route that visits each flower exactly once? 

This problem is extremely difficult to solve -- it falls into a class of algorithms called NP-hard,  meaning that we do not yet have an efficient algorithm to solve the problem.  Computers may need to be infinitely parallel in order to solve this hard of a problem in a reasonable amount of time.  It's fascinating that we continue to learn from nature and bring these insights to the world of computing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Online Pioneer

What defines the American pioneering spirit?  Perhaps a desire to improve one's lot in life, to start anew, to fulfill a vision of what could be.  Pioneering requires determination, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, leadership, a willingness to work for the common good, being comfortable with risks, faith.

Much of Mormon history is wrapped in the pioneer experience that many early church members had.  This pioneering continues today as members worldwide start new family traditions, open remote countries to the presence of the church, and build legacies.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Creative Internet

Google has put together this presentation on some of the many creative things that can be found on the Internet.  Some of these will really resonate with what we have learned about in this class.  Others are just cool.

Genetic Algorithms: Applying Evolutionary Biology to Computing

Principles of biological evolution are being applied to how computers solve problems in a variety of fields today, from aerospace to finance, acoustics, engineering, etc. It holds the promise of turning innovation into a computational process that can be scaled. How does this work?

Replication and Randomness
Computers are good at replicating, just as biological organisms are. The advances that come with biological evolution come about as minor changes (random mutations) end up favoring fitness for survival (over the course of many generations). So, with that in mind, a computer replicates millions of instances of a problem, and then introduces an element of isolated randomness to each of those instances (just as every individual person replicates the human genome, but we come with randomized versions of our own genetic code).

Survival of Fittest Solutions
Then, since computers are really good at repeating cycles, it's possible to have different "generations" or repeated cycles of the computer trying to find a solution. Benchmarks are set up to determine the viability of candidate solutions, and those candidate solutions either "live" or "die" depending on how well they get to those benchmarks. The computer then replicates the more favorable candidate solutions, introduces additional random factors for the next generation, and tries it again. Here's an example of how it works.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Innovation vs Evolution

As we're reading Darwin's Origin of the Species this week, I thought it would be worthwhile to distinguish between evolution in the natural world an innovation in the digital world.

Evolution occurs when the traits of a genetic population change over successive generations, generally a very long period of time relative to the life of an individual in the species.  Changes are introduced through mutation and then inherited through reproduction.  Natural selection chooses traits that aid the survivability and reproduction of the species.

Are changes in the computing world a result of evolution?

Linking your blog to Facebook

One of the useful things I've done is to link my blogs to Facebook with a tool called NetworkedBlogs.  This will post to your Facebook feed every time you post a new article to your blog, so that your friends can see it.  I've found this is a good way to bring traffic to your blog.  I'm going to walk through how I set it up.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A revolution in publishing

We've talked a lot about printing and the print culture this semester, and how the digital revolution is changing the way we consume and share the printed word.  I found this story to be a fascinating look at what happens when writers embrace the digital world and step outside the bounds of the traditional publisher model.

Four authors collaborated to write a book and publish it exclusively through Amazon's e-book service.  They followed two core principles of digital citizenship that we have discussed -- release early, and release for free using the freemium model.  The authors released free teaser material when they had only written a few chapters.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Babbage: Inventor, Mathematician, Computer Scientist, Hacker

"Lo! the raptured arithmetician! Easily satisfied, he asks no Brussels lace, nor a coach and six.  To calculate, contents his liveliest desires, and obedient numbers are within his reach."

E. De Joncourt, On the Nature and Notable Use of the most Simple Trigonal Numbers
Charles Babbage quotes the above passage in his 1864 work, Passages from the life of a philosopher, illustrating the pure joy he feels when working with mathematics.  One can't help but feel the same sense of wonder as he explains the algorithms underlying his beautiful Difference Engine. Imagine his wonder if he had ever seen it operating!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peer-to-Peer Networking, Copyright, and Civil Disobedience

Presentation and discussion after the break...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Romantic Hacker

MIT has been the site of many famous hacks.  One of the more memorable was the placement of a realistic MIT police cruiser on top of the Great Dome, atop a  building on the MIT campus.  The beauty of this hack was in the effort required and the attention to detail:
MIT Hack: a police cruiser on the Great Dome
The car turned out to be the outer metal parts of a Chevrolet Cavalier attached to a multi-piece wooden frame, all carefully assembled on the roof over the course of one night. The hackers paid special attention to detail. Not only had the Chevy been painted to look just like a Campus Police car from all sides, but a dummy dressed up as a police officer sat within, with a toy disc gun and a box of donuts. The car, numbered ``pi,'' also sported a pair of fuzzy dice, the license number ``IHTFP,'' an MIT Campus Police parking ticket (``no permit for this location''), and a yellow diamond-shaped sign on the back window proclaiming ``I break for donuts.''

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mini-Book Club Assignment

A classic study of the Renaissance
During the next week we are organizing a reading and research activity for students in order to jump-start outside reading and research in the historical content areas of the course. We know that our Honors students are capable of finding, studying, and reporting on more substantial sources than we have been seeing. Recently I posted on how to bring books into your digital life. This assignment will get you using some of those suggestions. We also intend it to be a way for students to connect more, as this was a main concern during interviews.

After you get broken into groups of three on Tuesday, October 5th, you will conduct a "mini book club" up through Thursday, October 14th that will get you involved in the three overarching aspects of digital literacy: consume, create, and connect. We expect you to narrate this entire process on your blog and not to wait until you've done all of the steps.  Obviously these posts will count toward the required digital literacy labs assignment. So here it is:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Connecting in Person: Critical Mass

Dalton and friend on tandem bike during Oct. 2010 Critical Mass ride in Provo, Utah
In a recent blog post Dalton Haslam talked about participating in Critical Mass, a monthly cycling event in which cyclists in various cities take to the road --en masse-- both to enjoy the ride but also to call attention to cycling as an important alternative to vehicle transportation. He got me curious, so I borrowed my neighbors very-sweet-ride and, with about 50 others (including Dalton and class member Morgan Wills) took to the streets of Provo tonight. Now, in some cities these Critical Mass events have caused some consternation, with some of their members using this as a sort of activism. Would we block traffic? Get arrested?