Working on a new version of the groklab website that could possibly integrate the blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other social-media type stuff that we have going on around here. The new site features:

* User profiles for all lab members, complete with Gravatar and OpenID support
* Users may create their own project site complete with project wiki, and task assignments.
* Users may store bookmarks that relate to their research
* Each person can maintain their own blog
* Tagging throughout the entire site.
* Upload and share photos (who knows? Might be fun…
* Users can set their current working status aka Facebook Status or Twitter (you can also sync your status with Twitter)
* Create a tribe, or discussion groups around whatever topic you want
* (We could also have some games, but I turned them off…maybe we should enable them again?

If you’re an IE student here at Iowa, or I know you, sign up now, and give it a try. Contact Jerry Steele for access details.

According to Google Analytics, Zotero2GROKCodex is the second most commonly accessed page in all of (64 hits in the last month). The main page, of course, is first (136 hits).

I’ve updated the software to work with the latest Firefox and latest stable version of Zotero (I haven’t tested with the 1.5 server sync preview yet). You can install Zotero2GROKCodex here.

Any new feature requests for this software?

What? You’ve got some spare time and you want an addictive online game where you build a machine to put a ball in a target? And you want that online game to use real physics constraints?


Here’s one that I did. My solution is effective, though not efficient. Once you solve a level, you can see other people’s solutions…

Could we use this as some sort of design competition in EPS2, or some other class?  Maybe score on time and number of parts used (could assign a cost to each part).  Lowest score wins…

Maybe something we can do for Robocamp next year? =)
Happy 10th Anniversary, Lego Mindstorms!r

H.A.L.E is an event that will carry LEGO Mindstorms-based payloads into the Earth’s stratosphere. At that altitude H.A.L.E. will be above 99.9% of the atmosphere. They payloads will be exposed to extreme the cold and radiation of near space. The sky looks black and the curvature of the Earth is evident. Individuals and teams from all around the world are busy designing and building payloads for this historic event.

High Altitude LEGO Extravaganza

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This is something we’ve been trying to impart to our freshman. Maybe it will help if major, currently-cool, corporations say it too.

Official Google Blog: Our Googley advice to students: Major in learning

It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change: developers today code in something called Python, but when I was in school C was all the rage. The need for reasoning, though, remains constant, so we believe in taking the most challenging courses in core disciplines: math, sciences, humanities.

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Members of our lab also work to teach an introductory programming class here in the College of Engineering. This video out of K State helps us see what its like for students today…

a short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

A Vision of Students Today

In addition to that, a UC Berkeley Professor Harold Rheingold made a video of a professor’s viewpoint of a class full of students on laptops. This is part of his work exploring attention in the classroom and elsewhere. One of my favorite quotes was when he worked with a student that said, “There is a marketplace for [the student's] attention, and if the professor couldn’t compete, that was the professor’s problem.”

Attention in the Classroom

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I was wondering that myself.  For that reason, I installed Google Analytics to all blogs that have a new post in this calendar year, as well as the Wiki (in the process, I upgraded our version of mediawiki to the latest: 1.12).

Let me know if you want to see the pretty graphs that Google generates on our behalf.

Did you volunteer time by sandbagging and/or post-flood cleanup in Iowa City during the flood of ’08? You’d be doing Iowa City another great favor by filling out the form below, describing your voluntary labor. The City will compile the total hours worked and submit it for possible reimbursement or credit from the Federal government. Names will not be used for any other purpose except for compiling total volunteer hours spent fighting the flood.

City of Iowa City – Volunteer Log of Hours Worked

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The Phoenix Mars lander will be landing on Mars on Sunday, 5/25.  This is a lander, not a rover; it’ll stay in one spot and dig for water and signs of life. 

They’re using the same entry/descent/landing system as the Mars Surveyer that failed spectacularly in 2001 (stupid metric system), as well as parts from the Mars Polar Lander.
Minor correction:  Mars Polar Lander was in failed in Dec 1999 and it probably failed  due early to  engine shutdown in the  last little bit of landing.  Mars Climate Orbiter has the honor of the unit conversion  issues.  Thanks Kurt Schwehr, from Tucson Science Operations Center.

Like the Phoenix bird of ancient mythology, the Phoenix Mars Mission is reborn out of fire; this new mission was created from the embers of previous Mars endeavors. Phoenix will use many components of two unsuccessful Mars missions, MPL and MSP ‘01. Using lessons learned and an extensive testing program, scientists and engineers are confident that Phoenix will rise from the ashes revealing clues in the martian arctic soils about the history of water and potential for biology.

 I thought it was interesting that the project site mentions a number of times that Lockheed Martin is responsible for the spacecraft engineering.

Anyway…have a look.

Phoenix Mars Mission – Home

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Industrial Engineering Program – Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Iowa

The redesigned the layout of the MIE pages to fit with the College of Engineering’s design, but they didn’t change much of the content.  Why am I still on the front page of IE?  Get some new pictures!

And the 14 Grand Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century Are… | Wired Science from

The National Acadamy of Engineering put together a committee to decide on some engineering Grand Challenges. 

So…get to ‘em, everyone! =)

A PhD Student at CMU has created a VR Head Tracking system using a Wii remote and an IR sensor bar.  The effect is pretty cool!

Using the infrared camera in the Wii remote and a head mounted sensor bar (two IR LEDs), you can accurately track the location of your head and render view dependent images on the screen. This effectively transforms your display into a portal to a virtual environment. The display properly reacts to head and body movement as if it were a real window creating a realistic illusion of depth and space.

YouTube video link

He’s made the software available on his Wii projects site.

Wii gotta get one of these!

Today I attended the 4Cast Conference on Social Networking and Campus Impact
The purpose of the conference is to get people from around UIowa that
are interested in social networking together in one place to discuss
how to use social networking on campus.  I’ll try to blog about it as
things go along.

Conference start.  Jon Winet
gives an overview of social networking, web2.0, collaboration tools. 
Gives examples of weblogs, facebook/myspace, Google docs, flickr,
twitter, Second Life.  Issues about privacy and data
mining/aggregation.  Showed a video of a UI
Writers Worship doing a
reading in Second Life.  Discussed the convergence of information
sources – computer, TV, movies, cell phones.  Introduced an interesting
presentation technique called Pecha-Kucha: A powerpoint presentation using 20 slides, each slide shown for 20 seconds: 6:40 total presentation time.

Broke into discussion groups.  Discussed how SN tools support and
enhance teaching. and what can UI do to use SN tools.   Many of the
groups identified the need for some type of decision support system for
faculty to help them decide which tool could be used to address
different types of learning objectives. 

12ish: Lunch.  Very
yummy.  I spent much of it talking with a professor from the Spanish
Dept, who had questions about types of technology she could use NOW.

Broke into separate sessions that went into more depth on specific
technologies – wikis, Second Life, podcasting.  Ok, I went back to my
lab for this part of the day.

2:30: Overview of Personal Response Systems, or “Clickers,” which are used to get real-time responses from lecture students.

Summary and Discussion

was struck by the range of perception of and experience with different
social network technologies.  Some people had never heard of some of
the tools, some had heard of them but never seen them, some had seen
them and were not clear why they would use them in class, and some
(few) had used them in class and research.  It was good for me because
it challenged many of the assumptions and ideas that I have come to
take for granted in my social network research.

Access to the technical skills and resources to build and use social network sites was an issue for some departments.

We raised some of the obvious issues of privacy, data mining, and UI
social network policies.  One professor, for example, recently started
a Facebook profile.  She only allows her students to see a limited
portion of her profile, and asks her students to limit her access to
their profile.  She wants to keep a teacher-student relationship, and
doesn’t want to see their party pictures.  Another person suggested
that it may be proper not to Facebook-friend people while you are
teaching class, but you can be friends after.  It will be interesting
to see how institutional policies evolve in this area.

of the range of experiences, I think they could have done a better job
at introducing and organizing the social networking arena to the many
newbies in the group.  The first speaker did a great job of showing
some of the social network sites like Facebook, myspace, youtube, etc,
and even showed some examples of how they are being used in education. 
But I think this group needed to take a step back from specific tools. 
For example, I think social network technologies are good at 1)
locating and connecting people with similar interests, 2) enabling
asyncronous communcation and collaboration, 3) enabling reuse/mashups
of existing content and 4) aggregating many opinions or viewpoints
about a particular resource.  It may have been helpful to introduce
social networking by saying, “here are 4 uses for social networking
technologies, and here are particular examples of these uses.”  This
would have helped people to separate concepts about social networking
in general from the specific implementations you see in Facebook,
Second Life, etc.  Second, introducing social networking concepts
instead of specific tools may have helped people identify how these
tools could be used in their work and teaching.

Thought this would be an interesting discussion piece.

STSC CrossTalk – Computer Science Education: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow? – Jan 2008

It is our view that Computer Science (CS) education is neglecting basic skills, in particular in the areas of programming and formal methods. We consider that the general adoption of Java as a first programming language is in part responsible for this decline. We examine briefly the set of programming skills that should be part of every software professional’s repertoire.

The main argument here is that students are becoming programming plumbers – basically able to follow set patterns or string together libraries, but lack knowledge in fundamental computing areas to enable them to solve complex or large scale computing problems efficiently.  The article also describes some computer engineering skills/knowledge that programmers should have.

In the Iowa College of Engineering, first year students have a programming course in which they learn C.  However, the course skips pointers, references, and memory management in order to simplify the course and retain more students.  I’m not sure when, if ever, pointers and memory management are re-introduced into the engineering curriculum.  Perhaps somewhere in the EE track.  As a programmer, I hated having to deal with memory management and pointers, and I have been extremely happy to move from strongly typed compiled languages like C, C++, Java into scripting languages like Python and Ruby. But I think that a fundamental knowledge of memory management becomes like a common abstraction between languges that lets you learn new languages and techniques more efficiently.

New rule:   websites should only be upgraded in the morning when the sysop is fresh and patient, not at night when   he is tired.

Also, I think you should have to get a license to use the rm -rf * command (recursively remove everything, forcibly without confirmation) in unix.


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