Welcome!

After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lifelong Trekker celebrates 50 years at Chicago Trek Fest

by Mary Harrsch © 2016

My son Ben (left) and I (right) share a moment with
actor Sean Kenney (Center) who portrayed a disfigured
Captain Christopher Pike in the classic Star Trek
episode "The Menagerie".
Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the original Star Trek television show, I traveled to Chicago to attend a 50th anniversary Star Trek celebration (after I couldn't get a ticket to the Las Vegas Star Trek gathering even though I tried to obtain a ticket nine months before the event!!).  After 50 years, I finally got to meet William Shatner, the original Captain James T. Kirk himself (Guaranteed by the purchase of a silver ticket of course!)

I have been a Trekker since the very first show.  In fact, some of my high school friends got really angry with me because I belonged to the Pep Club and Junior Varsity games were played on Thursday nights and I was expected to attend.  But when Star Trek was announced, I stayed home to watch "The Man Trap", the very first Star Trek episode broadcast in September 1966 and never attended another Junior Varsity game after that.  I was hooked and even made plans to major in biochemistry at the University of Chicago so I could work at NASA's Ames Research Center and search for extra-terrestrial life. But, life dictated another course and I wound up as an educational technologist instead.  At least I worked with computers like those depicted in Star Trek and were pure science fiction during its broadcast run.

I watched the first two seasons then got married and didn't see the episodes of Season 3 until Star Trek went into syndication.  When my son was born I would rock him to sleep while watching Star Trek episodes aired in the afternoons on the local TV station.  As it turns out, Ben, who now lives outside of Chicago, actually went with me to this Star Trek convention.  My love of the show must have worn off on him!

I was really excited when Star Trek: The Next Generation (STNG) was broadcast in the 80s, followed by Deep Space Nine, Voyager and finally Enterprise although family responsibilities often interfered with my ability to watch these subsequent shows. I always took a day off from work to attend the opening of each Star Trek movie, though.

I also explored "Star Trek: Federation Science" at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (a traveling exhibit ending in 2002) where I got to beam down to a planet as a member of an away team (My husband said he couldn't believe we stood in line for 2 1/2 hours for that!).  I actually got to sit in the captain's chair on Captain Picard's bridge at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum (sadly closed in 2007).  Then I jumped at the chance to attend Comdex (a huge technology trade show in Las Vegas) held at the Hilton where "Star Trek: The Experience" was installed (closed in 2008) and got to be accosted by a garrulous Klingon in Quark's Bar!  The Klingons must have it in for me because I ran into a couple more at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, too!

Then in the 90s, I finally had a chance to attend my first Star Trek convention held right here at the Hilton Hotel in Eugene, Oregon!  Michael Dorn (Worf) was the featured guest and the Hilton was so packed the fire marshal was having a fit!  When Michael Dorn plays Worf he lowers his voice dramatically and, as Worf, he recited the line he delivered in which he professed his love for his half-Klingon wife in a recent episode of STNG and the crowd went wild!

By the time I attended the next convention featuring George Takei (Sulu), I even fashioned a slightly modified version of the Star Fleet uniform featured in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and wore it, although I was too embarrassed to enter the costume competition!

At these Creation-sponsored conventions, there was always something going on - screenings of music videos, bloopers, contests, auctions, etc., The vendor hall was packed and the auctions included some really high-end collectibles. It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed themselves even if you didn't spring for the gold or silver reserved seats.  Everyone got a chance to meet the keynote speaker.  You just might have to stand in line for quite a spell to do it.

Sadly, I was to discover those attributes have become a thing of the past. I found the Chicago convention poorly organized and intentionally engineered to limit attendance - totally baffling to me considering the size of Chicago.  Furthermore, Creation Entertainment sponsored two conventions just across the street from each other on the same days - one for "Supernatural", a currently broadcast show in its 11th season with a decidedly younger fan base, and the Star Trek the 50th Anniversary tour.  Irritatingly, the Star Trek convention, with many older attendees, appears to have gotten short shrift.  Whoever was running the cameras did a terrible job, the microphones and sound systems were erratic and many of the top celebrities like Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker from STNG) and Brent Spiner (Commander Data from STNG) supposedly canceled at the last minute.

We were told Frakes had to finish directing the last episode of "The Librarians" for this season.  I'm sure that had to have been known for some time, but we were not told until the morning of preregistration, probably to prevent cancellations and demands for refunds.  Furthermore, although I no longer have access to the extensive list of celebrities purportedly attending the show that I saw prior to my ticket purchase almost nine months ago, I remember it being far longer than the roster of those who actually showed up.

 At this convention there was less than a dozen vendors although I managed to find an authentic Tribble complete with action sounds and some collectible Star Trek Hallmark ornaments I'd never even seen before. The auction only included signed photographs or display banners except once when one of the volunteers was draped with various T-shirts (a tactic I remember from years ago). There were no blooper reels or music videos except for an amateurish video submitted by a fan. Apparently, on the convention website they had announced a fan music video contest but only had one taker.  I wish I would have seen that.  I think I've learned enough about ProShow Gold that I could have put together something!

Autographs and photo ops were all "pay to play" activities charging such "modest fees" as $25 - $100 each depending on the celebrity plus the cost of whatever it is you are having signed.

There were Q & A sessions with the appearance of each guest but "planted" questioners during the Q&A sessions - awfully similar to "reality" show productions.  Maybe Creation figured us old geezers were too old to notice.

There was a costume contest like in the old days but most people wore the standard Star Fleet costumes you can purchase online.  There were several outstanding exceptions, though.  A young college girl dressed up as Commander Data in the 19th-century ship's officer uniform he wore in the opening holodeck scene of the feature film "Generations".  She had her face made up with white makeup and her hair pulled back and looked so much like Data it almost made up for Brent Spiner's absence!  If I had been able to find a 12" action figure of Data dressed that way I would have bought it and had her sign it!  There were two men dressed as Khan Noonien Singh, one from the Classic Trek Episode "Space Seed" and the other from the feature film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan".   There were several well-done Andorians and a couple of Klingons as well.  Two people even came as hortas, the silicon creatures from the Classic Trek episode "The Devil In the Dark!"

A young college woman (Center) dressed as Commander Data in the opening sequence of the Star Trek feature film "Generations".  Photo courtesy of  "The Chicagoist"
The Klingon Empire was actually pretty well represented.  Guest celebrities included Michael Dorn (Worf), the actors who portrayed Gowron and Martok from Deep Space Nine and Suzie Plakson who played K'Ehleyr, Worf's half-Klingon mate in the STNG episodes "The Emissary" and "Reunion".  Plakson also played a Vulcan doctor on the STNG episode "The Schizoid Man", a female Q on the Voyager episode "The Q and the Grey"and the Andorian Tarah on the  "Enterprise" episode "Cease Fire".  Michael Dorn's presence sort of brought me full circle back to the very first Star Trek convention I ever attended.  I smiled thinking about that as this convention may be the last I will ever attend.

Other guests included Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on STNG (being a dancer she looked fantastic by the way!), Marina Sirtis who played Counselor Troi on STNG and Robert Duncan McNeill who played Tom Paris on Voyager.  McNeill now wears glasses and I honestly didn't recognize him.  He said it was the "Clark Kent effect!"

Nana Visitor (Kiera), Rene Aberjonois (Odo), Armin Shimmerman (Ferengi Quark), Max Grodenchik (Ferengi Rom) and Jeffrey Combs (Andorian Shran) represented "Deep Space Nine".  Jeffrey Combs also  played many different aliens on DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise.

Armin Shimmerman, who played the Ferengi bar keep Quark on Star Trek: Deep
Space Nine explains how a performance on the DS9 set had to be DLP
(Dead Letter Perfect).  Photo courtesy of  "The Chicagoist"
I was particularly impressed with Armin Shimmerman's presentation.  He now teaches Shakespeare and treated us to a little bit of Henry VI Part 2 although, to be honest, his depiction of a hunchback made me, like a lot of other people, think it was Richard III.  I was really surprised to learn from Mr. Shimmerman that, although there was hijinx on the sets of Classic Trek and STNG, by the time Deep Space Nine was put into production, Paramount ran the production like a well-oiled automotive assembly line.  Each performance had to be DLP - Dead Letter Perfect!  There was no ad-libbing allowed.

Rene Aberjonois played Security Chief
Odo on "ST: Deep Space Nine" and
Paul Lewiston on "Boston Legal"
Image courtesy of Kyle Cassidy.
I understand from Rene Aberjonois's presentation this stringent adherence to the script even applied to scenes where the actor was to cough or clear their throat.  Apparently, actors that could not perform at this level of precision didn't last very long on a Star Trek set or on the set of Boston Legal either. That really floored me as Boston Legal's story lines were often zany but they were apparently very precisely zany!

Sean Kenney as Captain Christopher Pike in "The Menagerie".
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I was really glad to see Sean Kenney at this convention.  Sean played the disfigured Captain Christopher Pike in the Classic Trek episode "The Menagerie".  I found a Star Trek collectible Hallmark ornament in one of the vendor booths depicting him and he autographed it for me and had someone take our picture together with my camera.  So between Sean and William Shatner I technically got two captains' autographs!

An 85-years young William Shatner still with a twinkle in his eye!
Photo courtesy of  "The Chicagoist"
Shatner, of course, was the consummate showman and every bit the star of the show.  He talked about all of the projects he is currently involved in including a very physically demanding upcoming equestrian competition in Las Vegas, then discussed the importance of friendship.  He said it was particularly hard for actors to make close friends because they are always bouncing from job to job.  I had never really given much thought to the "piecework" nature of acting before.  When it came time for him to sign my Hallmark ornament depicting him in the episode "Trouble with Tribbles", one of his assistants pointed to the front edge of the ornament asking if this would be a good place for him to sign and I asked "Are you sure he can sign in such a small space?" whereby Shatner, with his eyes twinkling, told me "Why I could sign on the head of a pin!"      

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tricky rewards programs mislead shoppers!!

Last week I read an article about the best credit card rewards programs to use for maximum benefits. One card that the article listed as one of the best programs was the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card because it pays 6% cash back on groceries.  It charges a $75 annual fee but with the rewards for groceries so high I thought I would still come out way ahead by using that card.  So I applied and was approved for the card and received it last night in the mail.  This morning when I called to activate the card I asked the account representative if Walmart, where I buy most of my groceries, was considered a grocery store?  "Oh, no," she replied, "Walmart is considered a superstore like Costco or Sam's Club so rewards would be 1% cash back. By grocery stores we mean Kroeger's or a chain like that."  I told her that those chain grocery stores charge as much as 50% more for groceries than Walmart so I would lose money by shopping there as opposed to saving money that was my original goal for acquiring the card.

For example, my husband and I like Grandma Sycamore's bread made by Sara Lee (sorry, no grandmother involved!).  I can purchase a loaf of that bread at Walmart for $2.50 or less.  At the local Albertson's (that would qualify for the 6% cash back) I would have to pay $3.79 for the identical loaf of bread.  That's 51.6% more for the same bread.  I'm afraid the 6% cash back wouldn't begin to cover the extra cost of shopping there.

I asked the American Express customer service representative to cancel the card and she was very gracious and did so without any high pressure tactics to keep the card.  After I hung up I thought about the annual fee and wondered if I would be charged the fee even though I cancelled the card on my activation call.  So, I called back and got a nice young man who assured me the card was cancelled and I would not be billed for the annual fee.  I wish all customer service representatives were as nice as those that work for American Express.  It's just too bad that the card will not save any more money for anyone who shops for groceries at Walmart.than a typical cash back card without an annual fee.

So, I guess the moral of this story is you have to be particularly vigilant if you are trying to save money using a rewards program that specifies different cash back amounts for different categories of purchases.  Although the author of the article did mention the card would not pay 6% at Costco or Sam's Club they did not mention Walmart that is considered by many people a "regular" grocery store since no membership fees are charged.  At least the Citicard Double Cash Rewards card pays 2% cash back for any purchase regardless of the source.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Extending the Learning Environment: Virtual Professors in Education

A technology resource article by  © 2005

For those of you interested in artificial intelligence development, here is an archive copy of a presentation I gave in 2005 (I'm consolidating my online contributions!)



Extending the Learning Environment: 
Virtual Professors in Education

By Mary Harrsch
Network & Management Information Systems
College of Education, University of Oregon
[2005]

Six years ago [1999], my sister was telling me about a fascinating History Alive Chautauqua event she had attended near Hutchinson, Kansas.  The program brings a reenactor portraying an historical figure into schools and communities for an educational presentation and question and answer session.  I thought to myself, “It’s too bad more people can’t take advantage of such a unique learning experience.”  Then, the technologist within me began to wonder if there was a way to create a virtual Chautauqua experience online.  As I pondered this possibility, I realized that if I could find software that could be used to create a “virtual” person online, I could not only recreate the experience of the Chautauqua, but provide a tool faculty could use to answer course-specific questions.  It could even be used to provide information about the professor’s personal interests and research to enhance the sense of community within the learning environment.

My quest led me to a website that included links to a number of different software agent projects.  I learned that the type of agent I needed was commonly called a “chatterbot”.  The first “chatterbot” was actually developed long before the personal computer.  In the early 1960s, Joseph Weizenbaum created “Eliza”, a virtual psychoanalyst.

In his efforts to create a natural language agent, Weizenbaum pointed out that he had to address the technical issues of:

  • the identification of key words,
  • the discovery of minimal context,
  • generation of responses in the absence of keywords

As I began to explore different agent implementations, I found that, in addition to these issues, the application needed to be able to prioritize keywords to discern the most appropriate response.  Several agents I evaluated, including Sylvie, a desktop assistant, developed by Dr. Michael ("Fuzzy") Mauldin, Artificial Life’s Web Guide , Carabot 500 developed by U.K. company, Colorzone,  and Kiwilogic’s Linguibot, used slightly different methods to set the priority of subject keywords to select the most appropriate responses.  The response with matching keywords under the subject with the highest level setting was “fired” – displayed to the user.  However, when editing their script files, I found keeping track of subject priorities was challenging.

Another problem with many script-driven agents I evaluated was the use of left-to-right parsing sequences that did not compensate for a variance in the order of keywords in a question. Each query had to be evaluated for subject and for matching character strings, based on left-to-right word order with the use of various “wildcard” characters to indicate placement of keywords within the overall question.  Therefore, you often had to have multiple script entries to compensate for different word order.  For example, if a student asks “How do I change my password in e-mail?” you would need one script entry. If the student asks “How do I change my e-mail password?” a different script entry would be required:

* email * * password * as well as
* password * * email * to trap for either wording.

Although this attention to script design resulted in improved response accuracy the scripting knowledge required for these agents was not something I would expect a faculty member to have the time or desire to learn.

A third problem with several of the agent applications I used was the necessity to unload and reload the agent each time the script file was edited.  If students were actively querying the agent, you could not save any script changes until the script file was no longer in use.

When I invested in the Enterprise Edition of Artificial Life’s WebGuide software, I also realized the importance of a logging feature that I could use to study and improve my guide’s responses.   I recognized the importance in a virtual tutoring environment of having the ability for a student to print out a transcript of their tutoring session for future study.  Not only was this feature absent in the agents I evaluated, but the responses produced using Javascript or Flash would not allow the user to highlight and copy responses to the clipboard either.

One day, I explored UltraHal Representative, developed by Zabaware, Inc. I liked the ability Ultrahal provided to program the agent through a web interface.  It had the capability to include links to related information.  It could be customized with personalized graphics.  It logged interactions.  Best of all, it had a straightforward approach to editing - no scripting – just type your question three different ways then type your intended response. 

But, I soon discovered that without the ability to identify keyword priority, I found that the results using whatever algorithm was built into the agent engine were too inaccurate for a virtual tutoring application.

I needed a product that could be programmed to be “omniscient”. 

“Effective ITS require virtual omniscience -- a relatively complete mastery of the subject area they are to tutor, including an understanding of likely student misconceptions.” (McArthur, Lewis, and Bishay, 1993)

I needed a virtual professor that could be “programmed” by real professors, the individuals who would have a mastery of the subject and an understanding of student misconceptions. But all of the chatterbots I had encountered, so far (with the exception of Ultra Hal), required knowledge of scripting that most faculty members do not have the time to learn.  I would not have the time to provide one-on-one time with faculty developers and paying a programmer to work with a faculty member is also too expensive.  (I noticed most developers of commercial agents actually relied on the scripting needs of their clients for their primary revenue stream.)  So, I decided to attempt a radically different approach to agent design.

I am an experienced Filemaker Pro solutions developer and one day I was reviewing some of Filemaker’s text functions and realized that the position function could be used to detect key words in a text string.  The beauty of the position function is that the keyword can be identified anywhere within the target text.  It is not dependent on a left to right orientation.  Filemaker is also not case sensitive.  Also, the new version 7 allows most scripting calls for text processing to be used with their Instant Web Publishing interface. I realized this would greatly simplify web integration.

So, reviewing my experiences with the agent applications I had used, I developed a list of features that I wanted to incorporate:

Web functionality:
Multiple agents controlled by a single administration console
Web-based query interface
Web-based editing interface
Multiple graphic format support
Web accessible logging function for both agent editor and student user
Ability to display related resources

Query processing functionality:
Question context awareness (who, what, when, where, why, how, etc)
Ability to weight keywords by importance without user scripting
Ability to return an alternate response if a question is asked more than once
Ability to use one response for different questions
Ability to process synonyms, international spelling differences, and misspellings
Independent of word order
Not case sensitive

Structural Design:
Modular design to enable importation of knowledge modules developed by others
Agent specific attributes to customize the interface and responses such as a personal greeting, the opportunity to use the person’s homepage as a default URL, information about area of expertise and research interests for alternative agent selection criteria, custom visual representations, etc.

I began by designing my response search criteria.  I programmed the agent search routine to categorize responses by the first word of the query – usually What, Where, Why, How, Who, Did, Can, etc. to establish the question context. Then I used position formulas to test for the presence of keywords.  I then developed an algorithm that weighted the primary keyword or synonym and totaled the number of keywords found in each record.

I designed the search function so that when the visitor presses the button to ask their question, the database first finds all responses for the question category (who, what, when, etc.) containing the primary keyword (or its synonym).  Responses are then sorted in descending order by the total sum of keywords present in each response.   The first record – the one with the most keyword matches – is displayed as the answer. 

If there are no category responses containing the primary keyword, then a second find will execute to look for all responses with the keyword regardless of category.  In working with other agent products, I have found that if you return a response with at least some information about the keyword, even if it is not an exact answer to the question, the student assumes the agent recognized their question and may learn auxiliary information that is still helpful to them.

For example, if a visitor asks my virtual Julius Caesar if he really loved Cleopatra, he will answer “Cleopatra…ah, what an intriguing woman.”  Not only is this more in character with Caesar (most of his female dalliances were for political reasons) but the answer could also be appropriate for a different question, “What did you think of Cleopatra?”  My search routine would find it in either case because of the weighting of the primary keyword, Cleopatra.

If there are no responses containing the primary keyword, a third find looks for any generic category responses.  For example, if a student asks who someone is and you have not programmed your agent with a specific answer for the keyword (the person they are asking about), the agent will reply with an appropriate “who” response such as “I’m afraid I’ve never made their acquaintance.” 

If a student’s question does not begin with any words set as category words, the last find will return a generic “what” response such as “I may be a fountain of knowledge, but I can’t be expected to know everything.”  Programming the agent with default generic responses, ensures that the agent always has something to say, even if it knows nothing about the subject.  I developed a small database of generic responses for each question category that is imported into an agent database each time a new agent is created.  The faculty member can go through the responses and edit them if they wish.
Next, I turned my attention to the faculty’s content editing interface.  I wanted the faculty member to enter a proposed question, designate a primary keyword and synonym, supply any other keywords they thought were important to identify more precisely the desired response, and the desired response.  

I also provided a button that enables a faculty member to quickly generate a different answer for the same question or a different question for the same response.  

I created a field that is populated with a different random integer on each search.  By subsorting responses by this random integer, it enables the agent to offer a different response to the same question if the question is asked more than once.  This supports the illusion of the agent being a “real” person because it will not necessarily return the same identical response each time. 

“Believable agents must be reactive and robust, and their behaviors must decay gracefully. They must also be variable, avoiding repetitive actions even when such actions would be appropriate for a rational agent. They must exhibit emotion and personality. Ultimately they must be able to interact with users over extended periods of time and in complex environments while rarely exhibiting implausible behaviors.” – Dr. Patrick Doyle, Believability through Context: Using “knowledge in the world” to create intelligent characters

With the “engine” of my agent developed, I turned my attention to the visual representation of the character.  In their paper, The Relationship Between Visual Abstraction and the Effectiveness of a Pedagogical Character-Agent, Hanadi Haddad and Jane Klobas of Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, point out the divergent views of information systems designers outside the character-agent field with those developers within it.

Wilson (1997) suggests that more realistic character-agents may introduce distraction associated with the user’s curiosity about the personality of the character and overreading of unintended messages because of presentation complexity.”

Unlike detailed realistic drawings, sketches help focus the mind on what is important, leaving out or vaguely hinting at other aspects. Sketches promote the participation of the viewer. People give more, and more relevant, comments when they are presented a sketch than when they are given a detailed drawing. A realistic drawing or rendering looks too finished and draws attention to details rather then the conceptual whole (Stappers et al, 2000).

“On the other hand, research by psychologists suggests that people may put considerable cognitive effort into processing abstract representations of faces (Bruce et al. 1992; Hay & Young 1982). It is possible, therefore, that response to anthropomorphised character-agents, and especially their faces, may differ from responses to sketches. Gregory and his colleagues (1995) conducted studies on human response to faces at the physiological level. They demonstrated that humans are particularly receptive to faces. In terms of recognition, participants in their studies were more responsive to real faces than to abstracted line faces. They speculated, however, that people spend longer studying abstracted line faces and may find them more interesting (Gregory et al. 1995). If this is so, then contrary to theories of information design, an abstract face may introduce more distraction into the communication than a realistic face.”

Filemaker Pro 7 provides multimedia container fields that enable me to include still images, animations, or even video clips.  However, not only is creating a unique graphic for each response time consuming, motion video files can be quite large and slow down the delivery of response information over the web.  Working with other agents, I had noticed that just the slight eye movement of a blink can be enough to reinforce the illusion of a sense of presence. This approach straddles the two opposing theories described above.  I would utilize a real face to capitalize on the human receptivity to a real face but keep animation to a minimum to reduce distraction.  I also think the use of a real faculty person’s face serves to reinforce the bond between the instructor and the student. A blink is also very easy to create from any faculty portrait.

I use an inexpensive animation tool called Animagic GIF Animator.  I begin with a portrait of the faculty member.  I open it in Photoshop (any image editor would suffice) and, after sampling the color of the skin above the eye, I paint over the open eye.  Then I open an unedited copy of the portrait in Animagic, insert a frame and select the edited version of the portrait.  I then set the open eye frame to repeat about 250 times and the closed eye frame to repeat once.  Then loop the animation.

I created a related table that stores all unique information about each agent including their default image, their default greeting, their login password, their area of expertise, their email address and their homepage URL. I also developed a collection of alternate avatars to use for agent images in case some faculty were camera-shy.  These were created with Poser using their ethnic character library.

Finally, I designed the login screen where the student selects the tutor to whom they wish to converse.  Upon selecting the tutor and pressing the button “Begin Conversation”, the student is presented with the query screen including the individual greeting for the tutor selected.  

I also provided a button for the faculty to use to login to edit their agent.  It takes them to a layout that prompts them for a name a password. 

Famed World War II cryptographer, Alan Turing, held that computers would, in time, be programmed to acquire abilities rivaling human intelligence.

Alan Turing at age 16.
“As part of his argument Turing put forward the idea of an 'imitation game', in which a human being and a computer would be interrogated under conditions where the interrogator would not know which was which, the communication being entirely by textual messages. Turing argued that if the interrogator could not distinguish them by questioning, then it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent.” – The Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook 


My virtual professor may not be as sophisticated as agents that have been developed to pass the Turing Test but I hope I have provided a framework for the development of a rigorous inquiry-based learning system.

“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. A complex process is involved when individuals attempt to convert information and data into useful knowledge. Useful application of inquiry learning involves several factors: a context for questions, a framework for questions, a focus for questions, and different levels of questions. Well-designed inquiry learning produces knowledge formation that can be widely applied.” - Thirteen Ed Online.

References:

McArthur, David, Matthew Lewis, and Miriam Bishay. "The Roles of Artificial Intelligence in Education: Current Progress and Future Prospects".  1993.  Rand. <http://www.rand.org/education/mcarthur/Papers/role.html#anatomy >.
Doyle, Patrick. "Believability through Context Using "Knowledge in the World" to Create Intelligent Characters." Trans. SIGART: ACM Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence. International Conference on Autonomous Agents. Session 2C ed. Bologna, Italy: ACM Press    New York, NY, USA, 2002. 342 - 49 of Life-like and believable qualities.
Haddad, Hanadi, and Jane Klobas. "The Relationship between Visual Abstraction and the Effectiveness of a Pedagogical Character-Agent." The First International Joint Conference on Autonomous Agents & Multi-Agent Systems. Bologna, Italy, 2002.

Wilson, M. "Metaphor to Personality: The Role of Animation in Intelligent Interface Agents." Animated Interface Agents: Making them Intelligent  in conjunction with International Joint Conference on Autonomous Agents. Nagoya, Japan, 1997.

Stappers, P., Keller, I. & Hoeben, A. 2000, ‘Aesthetics, interaction, and usability in
 ‘sketchy’ design tools’, Exchange Online Journal, issue 1, December, [Online],
[2004, August 3].

Bruce, V., Cowey, A., Ellis, A. W. & Perrett, D. L. 1992, Processing the Facial Image.
 Oxford, UK, Clarendon Press.

Hay, D.C., Young, A.W. 1982, ‘The human face’, in Normality and Patholgy in
 Cognitive Function, Ellis, A.W. ed., London, Academic Press, pp. 173-202.

Gregory, R., Harris, J., Heard, P. & Rose, D. (eds) 1995, The Artful Eye, Oxford
 University Press,Oxford.

"Thirteen Ed Online: Concept to Classroom".  2004.  Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 8/9/04 2004. <http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/ >.

Hodges, Dr. Andrew. "The Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook".  Oxford, 2004.  (3/15/2004):  University of Oxford. 8/09/04 2004. <http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/scrapbook/test.html >.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Importance of Capturing Family Oral Histories

A history resource article by  © 2015

My Dad, Joseph W. Turner Jr., with his beloved Indian motorcyle about 1934.
Just got an email from Baylor University today reminding me how important capturing family oral histories is for future generations.

“One thing almost all Americans share is regret that when we were children, we did not listen better when our parents, grandparents and older relatives or friends told stories about people and places alive only in their memories,” said Lois Myers, associate director of the Baylor Institute for Oral Studies. “Such oral traditions may be the most fragile links to our family history.”

With high-quality sound or video recordings, people can uncover and preserve the origins of family rituals — such as Christmas celebrations, common sayings or even recipes, Myers said.

“Today’s technology makes it possible to record the voices of your family storytellers, not only to keep the story alive but also to preserve accurately their version of the story in their own words,” she said. “Recordings allow family historians to capture the stories of those reluctant relatives who may never write their stories. Recording also inspires creatively sharing with younger generations through web presentations and audio or video documentaries.”

Myers suggests:

    Encourage the storyteller to concentrate on one memory at a time, describing sight, sound, smell, touch or taste.
 
Generate stories from word association prompts, such as emotions, “firsts” (first car, job, home, date, vote) or “favorites” (book, food, movie, TV show or hobby).
 
Create personal stories using life stages alongside a chronology of significant historical events over the decades.  What was it like being a child during the Cold War? What music did you listen to in the 1970s?
 
Devise a memory map of important twists and turns in the road of life — events, decisions, people or possessions.
 
Even with family members, it’s wise to develop an interview agreement form acknowledging the informant’s voluntary donation of information, transferring the interviewee’s rights to the researcher and addressing permission or restrictions for publication and distribution.
 
Whenever possible, make your family oral history an intergenerational experience. Invite young family members to contribute questions or do the interviews. Interview the children.
 
For a relaxed, candid interview, allow the informant time to prepare. Fully explain the purpose of the interview.
 
Prompt memory recall through challenging and perceptive inquiries. Ask broad, open-ended questions; be a good listener; and allow the interviewee time to think.
 
Introduce every recording with a statement of the date and place of the interview, the full names of the interviewer and interviewee and the purpose of the project.
 
 When difficult situations arise, use tact, persistence and respect. Allow narrators to give their own interpretations.  Avoid burdening the story with your own perspectives, which may not reflect the narrator’s life and times.
 
Think far into the future about who will take care of the histories you collect. Since most family history also contains stories of community interest, consider placing interview copies in a local archive or library.

By the way, my Dad wrecked that Indian motorcyle and wound up with blood poisoning.  Put a dent in his semi-professional soccer playing so he enlisted in the Navy and made a career out of it instead!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Hit Men in concert at Three Rivers in Florence, Oregon - Oh, What a Night!!

A music review by  © 2013

Last year my sisters and I had such a great time attending a performance of "Jersey Boys" at Keller Auditorium in Portland that when I saw some of the original "Four Seasons" had formed a new group called "The Hit Men" and were to perform at the Three Rivers Casino over on the coast in Florence, Oregon I couldn't resist booking some tickets.

I was certainly glad I did.  The show sold out and when the group started playing, everyone in the audience, including me, could hardly resist singing along with them and I think there was even dancing going on in the aisles!  They started out with a Four Seasons medley that included the Four Seasons classics "Dawn", "Rag Doll" and "Working My Way Back to You".  Then they kept knocking out hit after hit after hit.



Many of the songs were from the Four Seasons repertoire (some of my most favorite dance music from the 60s and 70s) but the group also includes members who have played with Tommy James and the Shondells, Elton John, Carly Simon and Jim Croce so we were treated to spirited renditions of "Mony, Mony", "Hanky Panky", "Crocodile Rock", "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" and "You're so Vain", too.

Apparently, the musicians were inspired to get together again because of the phenomenal success of "Jersey Boys", the Broadway play that tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and includes many of their hit songs.  Lee Shapiro on the keyboard, who got the Hit Men together, and Gerry Polci, on the drums, were members of The Four Seasons until the 90s.

Gerry Polci was also the lead singer on one of the Four Seasons greatest hits, "Oh, What a Night!".  The song, written by Bob Gaudio and his wife Judy Parker, was originally about the repeal of Prohibition and entitled "December 5th, 1933but after a lyric rewrite at the urging of Franki Valli, the song became a nostalgic remembrance of a young man's first affair with a woman and the rest is music history.When the group performed that song during the concert, Polci once again sang the lead and it sounded as terrific as it did when The Four Seasons first recorded it all those years ago and released it as a single in December 1975.

Not only did the songs sound as good as I remembered but the musicians were all obviously having a great time, too.

“It's really amazing to be reliving my greatest moments in music with the the guys who were there.”
– Gerry Polci, Hit Men drummer and former Four Seasons.

I was also totally blown away by the energy exhibited by the band members as many were at least as old as I am. Russ Velazquez who has not only performed with Sting, Carol King, LL Cool J and Paula Abdul but is a four time Emmy-nominated composer and arranger for his work on TV's Sesame Street,was just all over the stage and had an amazing vocal range.

Larry Gates sang a particularly mean "Mony, Mony" and supplied the distinctive falsetto in many of The Four Seasons' songs. Jimmy Ryan, who has received gold and platinum records playing alongside Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Cat Stephens, Jim Croce and Carly Simon was in absolutely top form, too! Of course as a close friend of Carly Simon, he sang the lead in "You're so Vain." Ryan also frequently told little stories in between sets about the early days of rock-n-roll that were really interesting and certainly turned up the nostalgia factor!

One of Ryan's stories included a memory about a performance when the power went out and they had to sing without amplified instruments.  To show us what it was like, all of the men walked up to the front of the stage leaving their instruments behind, except for Ryan's unplugged guitar.  Then they sang "Silence is Golden", first released by The Four Seasons in 1964.  Their harmony is so sweet they didn't really need their instruments anyway.

I noticed that Don Ciccone, another member of the Four Seasons, is featured in some of the Hit Men videos on YouTube.  He has also appeared with them but did not come on this particular tour.  In addition to The Four Seasons, Ciccone sang with Tommy James and the Shondells and is probably the reason the Hit Men include songs from that group, like "I Think We're Alone, Now", "Hanky Panky" and "Mony, Mony" in their performances.

If you see an advertisement in your area for an appearance of "The Hit Men", by all means, don't pass it up! You, too, will be saying "Oh, What a Night!!"




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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Slitherine Games capitalizes on "Gravity" success with Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager

A gaming resource article by  © 2013

In my Slitherine Ltd newsletter today I see that the game developer is capitalizing on the wildly successful space drama "Gravity" starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney by preparing to release a new strategy game entitled "Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager".

"Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager (SPM) is the ultimate game of space exploration. It is the mid 1950s and the biggest nations in the world, in an effort to conquer outer space together, have established the Global Space Agency (GSA). You are in charge. It's your duty to carefully manage the agency's budget by opening programs, spending R&D funds on improving the hardware, recruiting personnel and astronauts and launching space missions in this realistic turn based strategy game. 
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, ScD 1963 (Cou...
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, ScD 1963 (Course XVI) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In sandbox mode manage your agency, recruit and train technicians, astronauts, flight controllers, scientists and engineers. Research and develop thousands of components for hundreds of missions, all the time balancing your budget. Then watch your missions launch with thousands of beautiful renders of these amazing spacecraft. In Campaign mode do all this while also dealing with politicians and their short term goals. 
Develop the X-15 Space plane, the Sputnik satellite, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned spacecrafts and in later episodes on to Mars! You are not limited to the missions that did launch - you can also try out many that were planned but that never left the drawing board. For example, instead of sending men to the Moon using the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) approach used by Project Apollo in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you will be able to rewrite history and use either the alternative Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) or Direct Ascent schemes. The number of options ensures every game will be different and there is huge replay value. 
To ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the game it is being developed in consultation with Dr. Buzz Aldrin, former U.S. Air Force combat pilot (66 missions in Korea) and NASA astronaut, who took part in the first Moon landing mission and became the second human being to walk on the Moon." - Slitherine Games
When I was a school girl back in the 60s, inspired by Gene Roddenberry's original "Star Trek",  I dreamed of being the first female astronaut.  I ended up on a very different career trajectory! But maybe this game is my chance to experience the space program after all!
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sears Shop Your Way Rewards a Joke!!


A consumer resource article by  © 2013

I don't usually rant online but today I have to vent about my frustration with Sears "Shop Your Way Rewards" program.  Like many retailers, Sears jumped on the rewards program marketing scheme last year.  I was encouraged to sign up for the program when my husband and I happened to be in Sears shopping for tool accessories.  I thought, "Why not?" so I filled out the application and signed up for email alerts.

One day I received an email from Sears Shop Your Way Rewards offering me a free piece of apparel if I bought one other piece as long as it wasn't outerwear or a leather item.  I had been into Sears earlier in the week and saw a blouse that I liked so I printed off the coupon and headed to the Sears store in town.  I found a couple of blouses I wanted and went to the checkout counter with my coupon.  The sales clerk scanned the coupon but it wouldn't register.  She called the department manager who also scanned the coupon and didn't have any better luck.  She then read the coupon fine print and said it was intended to be used at a Sears catalog outlet not a Sears retail outlet.  I told her that was ridiculous since it was not obvious to a customer they meant it was only good at a Sears catalog store and not a retail store.  I also pointed out that Sears catalog stores also have very little apparel if any in stock so essentially what good was it then!  She finally agreed to honor it but admonished me that I'd better not try to "pull" this again as if I was trying to swindle them or something.

I decided then and there that I would virtually ignore future mailings as they were essentially worthless.  But, today I noticed that my GE refrigerator filter warning light came on and commented to my husband that I guessed I would have to drive in to Sears (where we bought it) and pick up a new one.  Those filters are always very expensive - about $40 each.  I remembered seeing one of those emails from Sears Shop Your Way Rewards in my inbox so I checked it out and it was offering me $12 in points if I bought something from Sears before the end of the week.  So I logged into Sears.com and checked for the refrigerator water filter I needed.  I saw the regular GE brand filter I always bought at the store for the usual $40+.  But, I noticed a generic filter that was compatible with my refrigerator for only $22 so I put it in my shopping cart instead.

When I went to checkout I couldn't find anyplace to indicate I wanted to use my points on this purchase even though I was logged in with my Rewards ID.  So, I called customer support.  The service representative told me that on the last page of the checkout process there would be a choice to redeem points.  I told him that I saw they would accept Paypal and wanted to use it but I knew that once I clicked the Paypal option, I would be taken directly to Paypal to finish payment authorization and knew there would be no option to apply points there.  The service representative admitted I was right and said if I used Paypal I could not redeem points.

At that point the service representative offered to complete the order for me so I gave him the information he needed (shipping and billing address, payment information, etc) and we progressed to the final check out page.  When he attempted to redeem my points, he was told that points could not be used on that purchase because the item I had selected was shipped from a third party and not directly from Sears!!  At this point I was totally frustrated and sputtered "Each time I try to "Shop My Way" with your rewards program you [Sears] always have some reason why the points can't be used!  What good are they then, anyway!!!"

The service representative said he was sorry and offered me a 10% discount on my order ($2).

Maybe Sears designed their rewards program after an airlines rewards model.  Between black out dates and constantly increasing the number of points it takes for a ticket, airlines have perfected the "illusion" of value with their frequent flyer programs.  But Sears should keep in mind who their competitors are.  Amazon's rewards program works beautifully and I have used it so often and so successfully that I regularly reach for their rewards card each time I make a purchase.

I read on the web that Sears may go the same way as Montgomery Wards.  The article I read said the only thing that was keeping Sears viable was its tool sales.  Well, it certainly isn't their rewards program!!

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