Category Archives: Thoughts and Ideas

Enterprising men quote ’em

I was joking around on Twitter with Michael Berman, about vendor tweets appearing in a conference stream. You can see the thread, but the point is, he called me a chatbot.

And that sounded a bit like a challenge.

Specifically, it sounded like a challenge to find something that spit out the buzzwords of educational technology, like I was doing with Michael. And then the Imp of the Perverse whispered in my ear that maybe what I should do is mashup famous quotes with those buzzwords.

And so @EdtechEpigrams was conceived.

I have a memory that Networked Narratives includes a “make a Twitter bot” activity, so thanks to Alan Levine and Mia Zamora for leaving me that breadcrumb. It took a couple of swings at Google to find something I could quickly make use of, but Katherine Marzinsky’s post about her @nounjective bot fit the bill.

That got me the pointer to Zach Whalen’s SSBot, which is basically a tool for generating random tweets based on a Google Spreadsheet and a provided script. I worked helpdesk long enough to know that I should be skeptical about running code I can’t read… but I went ahead and ran it anyway. It’s a pretty slick tool and configuring it wasn’t too hard. (Except for the part where I got columns and rows confused and generated a whole bunch of gibberish… but I fixed that by just cut-and-pasting the data into the right tab on the spreadsheet.)

Honestly, the complicated part is playing with syntax and grammar. My bot is following a very standard formula of

(witty saying) (ending with a buzzword).

but I was kind of surprised to see what a restraint that is. For starters, it means I have to stick to quotes ending in nouns (or noun forms). It also means that definitions are mostly out, since those would be funniest as

(buzzword) (followed by a witty saying).

Which is kind of a pity, because Bryan Alexander’s Devil’s Dictionary was another inspiration for this project.

(I notice that a later release of SSBot now supports regular expressions. Theoretically, it seems like this ought to allow me to figure out a variable for “put buzzword here”… but this is just a quick cheap laugh and I wasn’t motivated to do it. Maybe someday. )

I’ve currently got enough quotes and enough buzzwords for 1000+ unique tweets. At a tweet every 4 hours… that’s plenty of time for the industry to come up with some more.


Shelter from the storm

open, yes we're open

It’s 10 years since Katrina and Rita and the levees broke. If you haven’t read Lolis Eric Elie’s magnificent piece “The Whys” on The Bitter Southerner you really ought to. It resonates with my own meager experience rebuilding in New Orleans for a week, in that every person I met had a story to tell about their flood experience, about their rebuilding decisions.

No, that’s not right – not just a story to tell. A story to share, a story to ask us to carry. An invitation to help them process, as they made decisions about possessions, and places. Maybe a request to be remembered as an individual, not as a statistic in a historical episode.

That is part of the point of storytelling, in any form. Memoir, fiction, nonfiction, mashup – we try to make a connection, form a bond, refute entropy. We make stories, and make sense; in telling or listening, we expand ourselves.

And maybe that’s the context which explains why I took a recent post by Alan Levine to heart.

The Stream is a funny thing. A friend sharing pain, a cat video, an echo from the political chamber, a friend announcing joy. When the same information feed serves as my newspaper, my editorial magazine, my entertainment, and my connection to my friends, it’s hard to remember to treasure those acts of deep sharing.

still from Ghostbusters
“You said crossing the streams was bad!” – Peter Venkman

So, I guess, we beat on, boats against the tide. We smash the Like button, we write “hooray” or “I’m sorry” or “I’m with you.” We retweet and reshare, and we hope it’s enough to make the world a safe space for stories. Sometimes we open an email or pick up the phone. Or we write a letter to the papers or the government and we give money and we vote. And sometimes, we open a word processor or blog post or image or video or audio editor and make art, dammit.

All because we hold you in our hearts. Because we listened, and we grew, and we bonded, and we remember.

“open, yes we’re open” by Derek Bridges, CC-BY 2.0 at

Still from Ghostbusters, from

I me mine

Allright, I give. I’ve got a million things I want to say about DS106 Week 1, but if I don’t say something and hit publish, I’m never going to give myself permission to move on to week 2. Plus, I’m not part of the group conversation as long as these ideas are in my head. Rather than let the perfect be the enemy of the good I’m just going to hit the damn Publish button on my thoughts on Art, and come back to technology and The Wire later.

In Art

Thinking back over the videos for Open DS106 Unit 1, I’m struck by the feeling that they all treat Art as something selfish. I heard a lot about what the Artist is trying to do in their creation, and I heard a lot which suggests that Art is found in the viewer’s reaction. What I don’t remember hearing is the idea that Art is a mode of communication – that the creation and the reaction are inseparable (except by time and distance).

I think it’s worth it to conceive of Art as a very stylized (and slow) way of having a conversation. Certainly this addresses all of the points in the Rhett and Link video. Conversations are allowed to presuppose a certain base of knowledge. That can be as simple as a common language, or as complicated as an academic debate. Some conversations are easy, and some are hard, demanding active listening and a willingness to have your attention focused by the interests of another. So no, sometimes Art isn’t a transcendent eureka moment, sometimes it’s a hard slog to figure out what you’re supposed to get out of it.

This isn’t to say that it’s always the listener’s fault when the communication doesn’t happen. Particularly in Art, where the artist may be manipulating details and symbols very subtly (or more boldly than we’re used to), I think it’s important that the artist thinks about who they’re talking to, and why. Gaiman’s advice to try things in your art before someone tells you they can’t be done is terrific advice – but I think it implies a certain element of the scientific method. Fail again, fail better is a good slogan, but it requires that evaluation of what “better” would look like, and how we might reach it. (And particularly, to the extent that an artist fails to include groups in the conversation, I think they at least have an ethical obligation to ask themselves if they’re OK with that and why.)

Hello DS106!

After years of hearing about DS106, and telling other people about it, maybe it’s time to actually try it out myself.

I’ve gotten tired of dropping out of big corporate MOOCs because of their inflexible time frames and faceless approach to content delivery. I might like to learn in a community of makers.

With any luck, I’ll also use this site as the repository for other stories I’ve told or will tell. When I get…

a Round Tuit

Once upon a time, I told stories at a blog I called  Hip Deep In Pie. Someday I might move the good ones over here.