Four Leaf Clovers, Question Paths, & Literal Names

Yesterday, I decided I’d look for four leaf clovers getting in and out of my car. Not hanging out searching, just opening my eyes and paying a bit more attention. Wikipedia tells me there’s one four leaf clover per 10,000 three leaf clovers.

4 leaf clover
What surprises me is despite their relative rarity just how many four leaf clovers seem to be out there.

four leaf clover

It’s like interesting things. If you just start looking around, you end up amazed at how many interesting things surround you daily that you never noticed.

4 leaf clover
One interesting thing leads to another. It gets to be harder to pay attention to more mundane things like crossing the road because there are so many interesting things to see and think about.

four leaf clover

Generating Questions

I tried to take pictures representing each question I had walking to work the other day. I only decided to do it about halfway in but it was interesting to see it snowball because I made it intentional. The results are embedded below as a set. Additional questions are sometimes in the descriptions and won’t be visible in the embedded view.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Literally Literal

Dodge Caravan takes on a very odd feel if you read it literally. I decided to start capturing all the car/bike names I came across that were also actual words. I’m working on a categorization system for them. It’s another interesting way to shift how you process the stuff that normally just flows on by.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Two Different Time Lapse Experiments

Time Lapse Trip from Richmond VA to Tampa FL from Tom Woodward on Vimeo.

This is my first attempt with the GoPro. I think it’s set to one shot every 30 seconds. You can see me fiddling with the settings a few different times if you’re masochistic enough to watch it through. The battery ran out early in the trip and resulted in me using it without the stand. That helps explain the repeated drifting as the USB cord1 pulls it slowly towards the driver’s side. It is interesting to see a 12.5 hr trip condensed down to 4 minutes or so. I may do it on the way back but pointed mostly towards the sky or maybe at the kids.

Knowing where the stops were makes me wonder if something similar would make for a interesting take on Dan Meyer’s original graphing stories.

On the other end of the time lapse spectrum is this attempt to condense one my attempts to fix a photo from the reddit pic request group. This one is kind of amusing to me in that you can see me googling some stuff for a sick child in the middle and finishing up with some posts to reddit and flickr. There is no sound but it’d be pretty easy to narrate if you wanted to make it more instructional.

The screenshots were generated based on this post. It is a copy/paste terminal command that will take a full desktop screenshot every X seconds.

i=1;while [ 1 ];do screencapture -t jpg -x ~/Desktop/screencapture/$i.jpg; let i++;sleep 4; done

Semi Tutorial

In either of the cases above you end up with a fist full of images. It used to be that you could set default input length for still images in FinalCut. I can’t figure out how to do that in FCP X. There are lots of people claiming (and even showing) other ways to bulk change the length of static images once they are in FCP. Several ways didn’t work for me. What did work is …. drag/drop the images into the timeline then . . .

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

Just click yes or change the settings to your preferred set up.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward
Once things have calmed down a bit, select all the images then ctrl click/right click. You’ll select “Create a compound clip“.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

Then it’s Modify>Retime>Fast and your choice of speeds. You can also go back and enter a custom speed to get things to around the duration you want.

1 How strange to be able to easily charge USB devices in the car and even stranger to have the need to do so.

Markov Seeds

I started to comment on Alan’s recent post but realized I needed to document this a bit better than a comment.

Every so often I kick over the #ds106 Markov generator and see what comes out. Sometimes I push it on to Twitter to share with the world.

This one amused me so I did.

Talking Tina replied, justifiably confused. I explain. (There’s some additional side chatter you can see here but the more interesting stuff is below.)

It could have died there but instead it went into a realm I could not have predicted- probabilistic programming in quantitative finance.

Bill Smith chimes in with n-dimensional Hilbert space.

All this from the random ramblings of a robot algorithm.

An Aside

Because asides are what this post is about after all), you may recall some attempts I was making to use an IFTTT recipe to pull my Tweets into a Google spreadsheet to mess with them a bit more.
I decided to see how often I’d get close to the full 140 characters. In playing around with the chart types I decided to visualize it with the radar chart. I was just curious what it would look like. No real reason. Strangely it has completely frozen the chart. I can’t remove it or interact with it in any way. It looks like the first image on my end and gives the second humorous (to me) error message on the published view.

It’s always interesting when you break something. Usually it’s best if it’s fixable but I don’t mind too much in this case. there’s something fairly attractive about breaking a web service in this way.

This chart broke the google spreadsheet

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 9.46.45 PM

Video Game Equation?

It’s supposed to represent the role of mind/emotion in creating engagement but the very fact that I feel compelled to explain that probably means I’m not doing a great job and I wonder about the degree to which I’m joking. There are elements here I may end up making work though. I can parse a few out for a #ds106 assignment as well . . .

Markov Tweet Generator Code, Path, & Potential

DS106 Markov Tweet Generator

The following is how I adapted the Markov chain generator from Hay Kranen. Thanks to the comments1 I found below Hay’s post2 this Markov + Shakespeare version inspired me to figure out the “post-to-Twitter” option.3

Anyway, the much cleaner version is up and running. It now allows you to push the results to Twitter although I’m still adjusting this a bit. The code for the page I modified is below. It’s still slower than I’d like but it’ll do for now.

The fact that I can go from a conversation one day to a fairly finished product the next is the piece that amazes me about computers and the Internet. I cannot stress enough that I don’t know how to write PHP. I feel that’s a statement of empowerment. This project took about three hours of work. 95% of that was searching/research and breaking it and then fixing it.4 Someone who knew what they were doing could probably knock it out in ten minutes.

Now how is this more than just random #ds106 amusement? I think the generator works a little like this example about machine imagined artworks5. So there’s a chunk of human constructed meaning from machine assembled pieces. It doesn’t always work but that’s part of why I like having a human layer between generation and Twitter publishing (although I may still automate it when that makes sense time wise). This does generate interesting assignments and juxtaposes them in ways that are similar to the remix assignments idea but with an additional dose of randomness that I like. It also brings older conversations, student products, and links back into the conversation that’s occurring now.

The possibility of the built in @ convention of Twitter has a lot of possibility as well. That element of personalization and specificity could bring people back into the game/course/conversation in ways that reenergize both the participant and the community. There are lots of ways this might be attractive even absent the Markov element. I think there’s value in trying to pull people back into public conversations via methods like this. If participants in a class (MOOC-ish or otherwise) opted in, you could randomly (and judiciously) @ them to engage in conversations around different concepts, posts, products etc. It’d be a balance to avoid being boring and/or spammy but it might be the prompt needed to have a longer term engagement with a course/community.6

License (MIT / X11 license)

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person
obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation
files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without
restriction, including without limitation the rights to use,
copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell
copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the
Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be
included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

require 'markov.php';

Order seems to be the level of chaotic magnitude in the combination from the source. Higher numbers seem to be less disorder.
Length is the number of characters in the returned string.
Text is the path to the text file containing your source data. I did use curl previously to pull directly from a website but found parsing out the html to be problematic.

$order = 6;
$length = 120;
$text = file_get_contents("ds106tweets.txt");
$markov_table = generate_markov_table($text, $order);
$markov = generate_markov_text($length, $markov_table, $order);

if (get_magic_quotes_gpc()) $markov = stripslashes($markov);


PHP Markov chain DS106 twitter text generator created by Hay Kranen and butchered by me

Markov Chain DS106 Tweet Text Generator

echo $onetwitter . $tweet . $ender;


1 Comments matter and help stitch together the Internet.

2 which is from 2008 I might add- long tail etc. etc.

3 Note to self and other clueless people, urlencode is just a bit easier way to clean up the text than trying to think through a str_replace. That’s a fairly awesome example of the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing. I only happened across that function (?) by chance on some random StackOverflow post and it was as if the world just fell into place.

4 I consider that testing.

5 Serendipitously posted on the same day I had the conversation that inspired this and which I read last night (h/t Boing Boing).

6 You could get all meta-data and create profiles of interest to help algorithmically connect people with posts they might like etc. etc. but that starts to feel a bit different to me.

Markov Chains, Horse e-Books and Margins

In discussing trajectories, elements of engineered serendipity, “thought vectors in concept space” with Gardner and Jon yesterday the following occurred.

Gardner shared this video (which is well worth watching and I rarely have the patience for videos).

That led to a discussion about creating and using a MOOC/hashtag specific Twitterbot (like horse e-books but real1) using Markov Chains2 to create algorithmically driven conversations/connections that occur in the margins of intention and result.3

So I began messing with the idea last night. Given I have a completely illusionary knowledge of programming I looked for people to tell me how to do this. I found the metaphor a minute tutorial which will help me out with the Twitterbot end of things in the near future. I also found this PHP based Markov generator which does very nearly what I want absent the Twitter-ing part.

I did want to automate the connection to a particular Twitter hashtag rather than adding the content manually so I started wandering around looking for ways to do that. Step one was trying to use curl. I eventually semi-melded some curl examples with the Markov generator. I was using the Twitter search for #ds106 as the source initially. With curl you are pulling the html so I got some interesting pieces but a fair amount of code fragments as well. Stuff like . . .

I liked the code to some degree but figure a larger audience would probably ignore it. So I harassed Alan, Jim and Martin early this morning and got access to the #ds106 Twitter spreadsheet archive. I pulled it down as a txt file and used it for the source material. That started to get cleaner results like . . .

You can mess around with the semi-working (just refresh page and hit resubmit form- I did say semi-working) manual/random #ds106 tweet generator over here.

1 Really fake, I mean. I guess.

2 I’m not really sure if that should be pluralized or not.

3 There’s a whole additional piece where you think about larger scale curricular design which incorporates random elements and assignments that use algorithms to push people in new directions. That starts to get really interesting. I am considering how the assignment and maybe a browser plugin could create contextual variables based on what site you were on at the moment that would then be incorporated into the larger assignment- kind of a #ds106 remix on contextual steroids.

Calendar as Unifier

I touched on this with a previous zombie pictures post. Essentially, metadata is awesome because it lets people find your stuff and it helps your stuff find its audience. Metadata is also absent more often than not because people don’t like to type in lots of tags and they especially don’t like to do it on phones.

#vcu #day1

You see elements of this metadata addition becoming automatic- simple things like Instagram (or maybe IFTT) auto-tagging my images with instagram and (in my case) iPhone (like the image above). I’ve also seen auto-tagging of image filters and with exif data you get all sorts of interesting automated metadata details but they tend to be mechanical rather than social. IFTT, FeedWordPress, and others allow you to do some low level of automatic metadata association.

What keeps coming back to me is that it would be relatively simple to enable people to associate calendars and specific calendar events with online media publishing workflows. This would add the socially relevant automated metadata so the audience could find the media. The end goal being audience rather than metadata.). This would work particularly well at institutions which have centralized calendars or in the case of Udell’s Elm City aggregated calendars. Take VCU’s calendar of events as an example. It has time, location, and categorical elements already. You could add elements to the event template or just leave it as is.

Sequentially, you’d pre-associate your calendar(s) with your media account of choice. You’d upload a piece of media. The system would look at the time stamp and/or GPS data from the media and attempt to connect that information to your calendar(s). Those calendar events would have associated metadata elements which you could opt to associate with your media.

It seems like you then use calendars as indices to media elements which would be an interesting reverse exploration. While it wouldn’t be as automated it would also seem relatively simple to add a WordPress plugin that ties into your calendar and allows you to associate blog posts with calendar events for much the same purpose. It’s a little more manual given blog posts aren’t as synchronous in most cases but it still seems valuable.

Snowballs and Networks

I’m trying to do a better job documenting how the Internet1 does things that make me happy. It’s fun to watch different flows and people come together to take things to another level. These interactions make up my personal Internet and I hope seeing them might help someone else build their Internet, this amalgam of humans and technology, to make them happy as well.

The Input

Somewhere in one of my feeds I came across Selfies at Funerals. I had a really hard time figuring out who would do something like that. The amount of ego really amazed me.

Open Reflection

So I put this out on Twitter2.

I made the following bad example after a few of my original thoughts turned out far too gruesome even for me.


William Berry then sent me an email that was something like this later blog post. Essentially, William had done a much better example using Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. With this as inspiration, I put in some after trick or treating time and made four historical examples.

It’s also now made its way to a #ds106 assignment which four people have completed at this point- me, William, Gillian Lambert (awesome English teacher), and Miss Kuhn (Goochland Represent).

Outside of that, we have the two kind gentlemen from Glen Allen HS behind the Between the Bells History podcast weighing in with the Charge of the Light Brigade.


Historical Selfie Hits

The fact that I could get this many people interested in playing along creating historical ‘selfies’ ought to prove there are people out there for you no matter how odd your interests. I include the views on the Flick images as seeds planted that might grow in time. Whatever energy I invest in the Internet comes back to me sevenfold.

1 Information, people, actions/interactions, habits- or something like that.

2 Note how I avoided using the word ‘tweeted’.

Historical Selfies

These were all focused on historical “selfies” right before disasters but you could do the opposite. I was inspired by the horrible and fascinating Selfies at Funerals Tumblr. You might also be appalled/inspired by Rich Kids of Instagram. I really don’t know quite enough about the selfie/hashtag culture to do this really well. The details with hashtags are what make it interesting and you need to do some research to make it work properly. There is work in humor.

Get the Photoshop template here.

George Armstrong Custer Selfie

Cpt. Smith Titanic Selfie

Napoleon Selfie

Rasputin Selfie

A Non-Definition of OER

THe following two photographs of slides are from David Wiley’s presentation on open education (which was awesome). I am playing against his definition for a variety of reasons which may become clear as I progress.


(1) Any kind of teaching materials- textbooks, syllabi, lesson plans, videos, readings, exams

“Teaching materials” are in the eye of the beholder but leading with this phrase puts people in a certain mindset around content and one that is actually harmful. People make fun of “educational” resources for good reason. A large part of what needs to be opened is our ideas around what content might be educational and how we might use that content.


(2) Free and unfettered access, and
(3) Free permission to engage in the “4R activities

I won’t argue much with #2, although I do realize I “pay” for access to some of this content when a 3rd party tracks me.

While I recognize the importance and goodness of #3, I hate to exclude all the content that falls outside that definition. I’d rather have a larger “house” of content and a few rooms that help people decide what they can do with it. I think it’s actually good that content might be ephemeral and might eventually go away. I am ok that I can’t remix certain things. I still find the content worth using. My goal is to first get people to open their eyes to the wealth of really engaging content around us and then the idea of remixing and making that content becomes both more likely and more interesting.

See Food!
I tend to see this as representative of most “teaching materials” only less exciting. The content is pre-chewed and equally unappetizing.

I’ll start with fairly normal media sources and drift outward towards stranger places and tools.

[Invitation to attend the execution of Tiburcio Vasquez]
The Flickr Commons has many good things (and a decent search interface), including this invitation to an execution that I found randomly as a result of subscribing to this RSS feed of the Commons’ photos. Since I knew Jim Groom was teaching a course on crime I passed it on and Jim did the rest. It’s also a decent example of the value of working in the open. If people know what you’re doing they may come bearing gifts. My favorites in Flickr are full of items waiting for uses.

This disturbing film records the successful experiments in the resuscitation of life to dead animals (dogs), as conducted by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Director: D.I. Yashin.

I found this very disturbing video on– specifically wandering around the Prelinger archives which are full of all sorts of odd things. All this content is remixable and the potential is limited only by time and imagination.

XKCD's What if? There is a cartoonist who specializes in romance, sarcasm, math, language and happens to answer hypothetical physics questions on a weekly basis. I find this interesting in a variety of ways- not the least of which is that there is an audience for this. There is even a Twitter account that documents all the interesting numbers found in the pursuit of these answers.

Backstory There are so many beautiful podcasts out there. This one is amazingly well done and a model for how we might teach history- 18th, 19th, and 20th century lenses on the same topic. They interview experts and provide resources that allow people to delve even deeper. This kind of thing starts to get at the idea of transmedia– different media paths with different depths driven, to some degree, by a narrative. The timely nature of the content is also quite useful- this Columbus episode for instance which would go nicely with this Oatmeal comic.1

There are so many things out there, it helps to have other people tell you about them. Eric Hoefler let me know about this one.

I do think it’s worth noting that I’m ok with degrees of “truth” from these sources. I want all information to be suspect.

There’s an endless additional supply of media but from here I’ll start to branch out into the idea that tools have as much or more value. A few of my favorites are below. I like them because they start with plenty of content and plenty of options but they also offer you the ability to fill them with your own data.

GapMinder (Not sure why Gapminder doesn’t generate a screenshot via the WordPress Snap feature. . . it is a real place. You can click on the 404 image and go there.)

Google Earth/Google Maps- Short version – It’s full of stars.

Many Eyes

Under the tools category also falls all sorts of javascript libraries – Timeline JS, Simile Widgets, Dojo etc. etc.

And then there are people, so many people focused on finding interesting things in various areas of focus. A few content focused examples include2

Shorpy Fresh Photons It's OK to be Smart Literary Tattoos Literally Unbelievable

And what’s better than people? Communities. Legions of people working towards your goals is handy.

Like this reddit focused on colorizing historical photos.
Colorized History

1 and some fava beans

2 I would note that content focused blogs should be rounded out. It’s important to look outside education.