Aaron Swartz

I didn’t know Aaron well, but I admired him deeply. The remembrances at Remember Aaron Swartz give a picture of just how much he meant to so many people.

These photos are from the last time I saw him, at a small wiki meetup in Boston in 2009. In my favorite, he’s huddled around a screen with SJ and Mako, and they’re all geeking out over these videos of procedurally generated educational games and and books that are written with Word macros. His passion was infectious and beautiful.

New Year’s resolutions: blog more, etc.

I have a few resolutions for this year:

  • Blog more, especially about kid-oriented media and culture. There’s a big lack of free culture when it comes to kids stories and media. I want to try to catalyze some kind of free culture project for an audience of kids.
  • Do better in the Stanford Human-Computer Interaction class than I did in Introduction to Databases last year. (I learned a lot, but didn’t end up finishing because the final was scheduled for right when Everly was born, so I didn’t take it.) These Stanford online classes are awesome.
  • Get involved with local politics. Somebody’s got to do it.
  • Make a functional web app. I’m going to try to learn Python and Django web development by trying to build an open reviews site, where anyone can review anything. In 2012, I want to at least build a very basic site, whether or not it goes somewhere.

a gift for that special geek

Looking for a cool gift idea for the geek who has everything (or the anti-consumerist geek, or the free culture geek)? I just claimed slot #3 (out of 20) in the WTactics “become a character” program. That means someone special to me will be having a freely-licensed portrait made of her as a fantasy mermaid priestess. The portrait will also become a card in the community-developed open source collectible card game WTactics, which is a spin-off of the successful (and fun!) free computer game Battle for Wesnoth.

Khan Academy: educational video done right

This TED talk, by the guy behind Khan Academy, is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while.  The basic concept is just educational videos… over 2,000 short lectures, all done in smooth but DIY style by Salman Khan.  His non-profit is now going from videos to an educational system built around videos.

That by itself is nothing revolutionary, but what’s inspiring is all the little things they get right.  The result is what seems to me like the first credible implementation for computers and the web really fundamentally changing the way we do primary and secondary education.

One of the big ideas is to flip the classroom/homework dynamic: students watch lectures at home, at their own pace, and spend class-time working problems and discussing the curriculum with peers and the teacher.  As Khan puts it, the basic lecture concept is “a fundamentally dehumanizing experience: thirty kids with their fingers on their lips, not allowed to interact with each other”.  And ironically, replacing live lectures with videos has the potential to humanize the educational system.

What’s really exciting, though, is the non-video components that Khan Academy is developing right now.  The curriculum is based on proving your proficiency in elementary topics before moving on to advanced ones that depend on what you already know.  And they are doing great things with video game mechanics: skill tree (similar to the tech trees of strategy games like Civilization; it hooked me right away), badges, tracking tools for teachers.

In short, I see a lot of inspiration for how Wikimedia projects should do things with video and interactive content.  Khan Academy has made a compelling system in a short time with just a handful of programmers, showing pretty clearly that great things along these lines could be within Wikimedia’s reach as well.  Sadly, what Khan’s team is designing isn’t open source, and the videos are CC-BY-NY-SA, a license incompatible with Wikimedia projects.

Liveblogging Baby Day

UPDATE: more photos are now up on Flickr, along with a video of Brighton with hiccups!

4:15 am. Faith and I are on a brisk walk before our planned 6:00 am check-in at the hospital.

6:14 am. Check-in was quick. We’re in our big room, the baby’s heartbeat is on speaker, and the nurse is taking a focused history and asking about birth plan stuff.

7:43 am. Three different nurses tried to start IVs but hit valves. Our main nurse, the mother of a blogger I met at the West Hartford townhall meeting, is very nice. She started the IV successfully on a second try.

8:20 am. The oxytocin drip is going now. Amazing how the same chemical that makes you feel good after you donate to NPR (or so Ira Flatow tells me) also brings babies out quicker.

9:34 am. Faith is bored so she’s doing work: scheduling residency interviews, checking icanhascheezburger, etc.

9:55 am. Our nurse is setting things up so the doctor can break the water. I’m not allowed to post anything specific about the labor after this. Faith and the nurse are bitching about private insurance and their profiteering ways; it’s a good thing Faith qualified for Husky (Medicaid) when she got pregnant, since there were important things that her primary insurance didn’t cover.

10:15 am. Faith reports that the contractions are “starting to not feel so good any more.”

11:37 am. Things are getting more exciting. We’re watching the BBC show Merlin as a distraction. This is the apparatus the baby goes in for his exam after he’s born:

12:55 pm. I just got kicked out of the room. It’s hospital policy that family aren’t allowed to be there when they administer an epidural; fathers tend to faint and injure themselves. Our nurse says she’s had to drag fathers out by the feet. Here’s the medicine, ready to be hooked up:

1:41 pm. Nap time.

3:10 pm. Our nurse was going to leave us for a while, but then she realized that it’s almost BABY TIME! We start pushing as soon as our doctor is available, it looks like. The nurse estimates half an hour until then.

4:23 pm. He’s here!!!

5:46 pm. He’s 8 pounds 1 ounce. He’s already fed once and he’s very good-natured. We’ve been testing his reflexes; one pic is the Moro reflex (startle reflex), one is the palmomental reflex, and one is just cute.

6:48 pm. Brighton is 19.5 inches long.

9:22 pm. Brighton has been snoozing for a while. It’s my objective assessment that he is, in fact, the cutest baby ever. Thanks so much to everyone who offered congratulations and kind words. To those scheming to steal and/or eat him: we’re on to your shenanigans, and we’ll have none of it.

Winter break

It’s been a while since I’ve post anything personal. The most interesting news is probably the trip to Europe Faith and I took with her Dad. There are lots of pictures on Flickr, but I’ll put up some of my favorites here:

“Cogwheel train to Rigi Kulm

“Luzern swan moves closer”

“Luzern water tower”

“Historical re-enactment”

These pictures are all the results of my new camera, a Canon PowerShot S2. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it for Thanksgiving vacation (in Orlando with my family, including the cousins), which was also a great time.