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Picture of molecule structure first of its kind


Posted on 29th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Biology, Emerging Online Knowledge, Open Content, Physics and Subject Sampler

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It is stunning that this first of its kind image and description of how it was taken can be studied by anyone with an internet browser — almost immediately upon its discovery. It will be many months at least before this new insight into and picture of molecules will be delivered to students in a printed textbook.

The machine in the illustration is an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) explained by physicist Ethan Siegel at his StartsWithABang blog. Siegel describes how the AFM works: “Basically, you make a tiny, sharp, atomic needle that you move over the top of a molecule. When you approach different atoms in a molecule, the electric forces either attract or repel the needle. As the needle moves up and down, the handle that it’s attached to feels forces and torque. So, all you have to do is measure these tiny changes in force and torque, and you can image the molecule beneath it.”

The gray inset image is what the AFM let’s us see. Siegel comments that: “You can even see that the electrons like to live on the outside edges of the carbon rings, and that there are fourteen tiny hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon atoms at various points. What an amazing picture; the entire molecule is only 1.4 nanometers across!”

The inset image is from BBC’s report of 8/28/09 titled “Single molecule’s stunning image.” Several developing concepts are highlighted in the BBC report, each of them offering potential for nano technologies where work will be done at the molecular level. A post at Gizmodo by Jack Loftus explains why what is displayed in the inset images is a stunning breakthrough: “That B&W structure is an actual image of a molecule and its atomic bonds. The first of its kind, in fact, and a breakthrough for the crazy IBM scientists in Zurich who spent 20 straight hours staring at the ’specimen’—which in this case was a 1.4 nanometer-long pentacene molecule comprised of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms.”

Mobile opens the sky for women


Posted on 28th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous and Mobile Learning

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Next week the new book Half the Sky, on the plight and progress of the world’s women, will be released. Last spring I had the privilege of hearing the journalist power couple coauthors Nicholas Kristoff and  Sheryl WuDunn talk about some of amazing women whose stories are in the book. The image with this post is from last weekend’s New York Times Magazine article by Kristoff and WuDunn. In the photo are Saima Muhammad, shown with her daughter Javaria (seated), who lives near Lahore, Pakistan. She was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business.

I have pre-ordered Half the Sky — whose title is based on a Chinese saying that “women hold up half the sky.” Perhaps the authors have mentioned mobile as they look to the future for the situations where women have been isolated and confined. Let’s think about that a bit here.

Imagine what it would mean to each of the women in the photo above to have a smart phone that accesses the internet tucked away in a pocket. One or more of them already may. I would bet that Saima uses at the least a personal cellphone in her embroidery business. In Jump Point, Tom Hayes predicts that by 2011 there will be 3 billion people individually connected into the internet. Let’s guess that by 2015 a couple of billion more will be added. By then the world’s population will be past 7 billion, they say. Far more than half the population will carry with them a mobile connection to what Hayes calls the network culture. Do the math: most women will have a mobile connected to the internet.

Mobiles will be ubiquitous before another generation of baby girls grow up. Cries for help will reach not just within earshot, but around the world. Girls once forbidden to go to school will carry with them direct access to anything they want to learn. Women will be connected with commerce and possess a tool of entrepreneurial equality — male brawn balanced by female e-connectivity. It can take generations for attitude change to evolve, but the trap of isolation transforms into open sky immediately when she slips a mobile device into her pocket.

Carnival of the Mobilists #188


Posted on 24th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists


August greetings from the GoldenSwamp where a New York City hot spell has everyone, including the frogs, taking a break. A lot of our Carnival bloggers seemed to have hopped offline too, since the number of posts this week dipped. But what came in is brimming with ideas and information. Let’s jump in:

Gerrit Visser writes at Howard Rheingold’s SmartMobs about a press announcement that “Layar Reality Browser 2.0 Launched Globally.” Gerrit sketches some details for this free application on your mobile phone which shows what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of reality though the camera of your mobile phone.

Ajit Jaokar post at OpenGardens is titled “Nokia’s mass market iPhone strategy is unlikely to work and Dave Stewart can never be the missionary man ..” After affirming that he is a long term of Nokia, Ajit proceeds with telling analysis.

Dennis Bournique at WAPReview provides his usual insightful comments on this subject: “US Prepaid Data Options – Making the Most of a Bad Lot” and concludes with some recommendations from this veteran mobile blogger.

Jose Colucci at MobileStrategy, who blogs as a Canadian consumer of financial services, sets out: “12 Reasons Why Canadian Banks Should Really Offer Mobile Services.” It is a beginning of a series on this mobilist blog that will surely have application not only in Canada.

Since it is the Frog Days of Summer and rules are suspended, (and there are not many submissions) there follow two posts by different authors from Little Spring Design (LSD).

Chris Nemeth, who is a first time contributor, writes on the LSD blog about “^location – adding in context to your content” — giving us location carets and lat-long irrelevance … hours before Twitter announces lat-long API.

Steven Hoober, LSD Senior Interaction Designer, analyzes “sustainability of the mobile industry.” I have encountered before these edgy LSD thinkers in the Lawrence, Kansas mobile design hotbed, and recommend Steve’s evaluations and his speculations about the unforeseen and unpredictable.

And finally, a post from me, Judy Breck, at my GoldenSwamp blog: Enjoy “Snow leopard kittens romping.” As I have written this blog since 2005 to give reasons for using the internet in education, nothing has been as persuasive in that cause as showcasing what is out there online to explore and learn as these kittens and their Mom do. Watch them on your mobile via YouTube and hold in your hand a mobile window for learning unimaginable before our time.

frogHot So Carnival #188 is done. Have a some happy frog days of summer, and jump over next week to MSearchGroove for Carnival of the Mobilists #189. And a note of thanks for the frogs to my great-grandfather Milo Roblee, who was a sewing machine sales rep in the 1880s. He was based in Topeka, Kansas not far from where the LSD team now designs for mobile. The frogs are from a sales flyer. When Milo was a young guy, he was an 1866 version of a twitterer — as you can see from the transcription of a diary he kept.

Education’s reductionist flaw is like the digesting duck


Posted on 22nd August 2009 by Judy Breck in Networks and Schools We Have Now


Realizing our education methods have grown out of reductionist times, gives us perspective to glimspe a deep flaw. In his automaton duck, unveiled in 1739, Jacques de Vaucanson boasted the needed duck parts were there for the contrivance to digest and defecate. As Jan Riskin describes, in his time there was “growing confidence, derived from ever-improving instruments, that experimentation could reveal nature’s actual design.”

Think, then, of this comparison: a digesting-duck curriculum for a school subject includes a set of standard parts, so that after a student works through it, she can pour forth its meaning. Online networking of the subject is a lot messier, like life. The deep rooted conviction in education that standard units of knowledge can be assembled to cause learning dates to the time of the digesting duck, when reductionism was infiltrating every intellectual field.

Like a living duck, the internet rejects dissected units of ideas, and provides instead a new matrix for knowledge that is complexly interrelated, as is knowledge itself. Melanie Mitchell begins her wonderful new book Complexity, A Guided Tour with this explanation of reductionism from Douglas Hofstadter’s classic Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid:

REDUCTIONISM is the most natural thing in the world to grasp. It’s simply the belief that “a whole can be understood completely if you understand its parts, and the nature of their ’sum.’” No one in her left brain could reject reductionism.

Snow leopard kittens romping


Posted on 21st August 2009 by Judy Breck in Biology and Open Content

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These snow leopard kittens from the Seattle Zoo were are featured today on The exciting world they are exploring is made richer for us all by being able to wander more and more through our wonderful world, virtually.

Scientists discuss iridescence in squid


Posted on 18th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Animals, Biology, Learn nodes and Open Content

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CreatureCast Episode 1 from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

This 8-minute video on iridescence in squid contains nuggets of insight into several scientific topics: cells, visible spectrum, animal behavior, and more. As you watch the sketches, you listen in as two biologists, Sophia Tintori and Alison Sweeney, discuss how and why squid use iridescence.

In my last post I wrote that incoming content from the internet is key to education. This video from is a way to let a shining squid into the studies at a school or on an individual student’s mobile device — offering interesting and enlightening knowledge.

Via SEED Daily Zeitgeist

Click to think about OER


Posted on 17th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Open Content

Get Adobe Flash player

In this animation, you can click “open” and “shut” to make the little white pieces (representing learning content) flow out to the internet or bounce around inside the school. The network above the school is a CAIDA image of a portion of the actual internet. Let’s think of that network as open online resources of knowledge for school subjects.

Some things to think about come to mind. You may think of others, but here is my quick list:
1. If the white dots stay inside and don’t mix, they don’t get enriched by connecting to “what’s out there online.”
2. The white dots bouncing around inside are limited only to themselves, and could miss some key stuff.
3. If every school has to pay for and maintain its own white dots, doesn’t that multiply content costs?
4. Why not just use the network itself, with all the white dots coming in from the new media of the 21st century?

And did you notice: the white dots are shown only flowing OUT of the school. OER is usually discussed as a university or other expert institution releasing (opening) its content. My points above allude to what is a far greater potential in open networking of what is known. Respect for incoming content is key. When all places of learning are open to the global networked knowledge commons learning will have transformed into its impending golden age.

Ditching Dystopia


Posted on 16th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Golden swamp defined and Mobile & Ubiquitous

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loganCellphoneScience fiction master author William Gibson tells us he was being evocative—not predicting the future—when he described cyberspace, a word he coined, in his classic novel Neuromancer. Yet many of us think of the internet as something like these words by Gibson in that 1984 book: Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

In 1984 when these phrases first hit paper, the engulfing global internet was not on any visionary’s radar. Yet Gibson’s word has come to define the location of the internet—bringing along some dystopic baggage many people have not shed.

George Orwell’s novel titled 1984, that gave us the frightening image of Big Brother watching us, was written in what the literati call the dystopian genre — dark, wretched, fearful, the opposite of utopian. William Gibson, who coined cyperspace, is a cyberpunk, which is dystopian. Somehow we have gotten stuck with a word with a dystopian heritage to name the setting of our future. Yet the real cyberspace is hardly a consensual hallucination, though it is experienced daily by billions. The complexity there is turning out to be a marvelous reflection of human thinking. Clusters of data have proven to be fundamental to network science that was not discovered until 1998. Hum . . . what has happened here?

The reality is this: No dystopia is necessarily ahead, quite the opposite is proving to be true. Cyberspace is turning out instead to be the platform for a dawning global golden age.

My grandniece, shown above filling some time on her Mom’s back by connecting to cyberspace is likely to live into the 22nd century. The virtual venue she is already experiencing is being constructed not by the weirdness of cyberpunk but by the wonderfulness of the golden swamp. The mechanisms that make this so will be a major theme of this blog from now on.

How OER can burst on to the learning scene


Posted on 13th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content and SEO

David Wiley and Stephen Downes spent three and half hours the other day talking about OER (open educational resources). These are the links I have scanned from which I gather that OER is not having its best days:

Downes, Downes, Wiley

For the record, I think a lot of OER is something academics do to reposition their pedagogy from the analog education era. OER tends to be bundled in courses and curricula and further boxed up into PDFs. The content of OER is seldom really open — urls for interesting content are not online and if they are, not tagged for search engine spiders. The content in OER that most students and teachers would like to use is the many nodes of stuff to learn within the bundles. To fix this disconnect the bundles do not even have to be disturbed. Just put a second version of them online and SEO the nodes within. OER needs SEO (search engine optimization).

To my point, there is a recent PLoS (Public Library of Science)  article about why they are providing a new metric for assessing citations of articles instead of journals (that is nodes instead of bundles).

Grist to chew on in future OER discussions . . . .

The golden swamp effect swarms town halls


Posted on 11th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Politics in the swamp

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Politico is carrying a story today titled: “Arlen Specter faces fury: ‘You work for us!’” The image above is from Politico’s 4:20 minute video coverage of a town hall today in which Senator Specter was confronted with questions, boos, and jeers. The supporters of the Democrats’ health care proposals have called these protesters “Astroturf,” a term meaning they are false grassroots.

As I have described at Howard Rheingold’s, where I am on the blogging team, I have a different take on what is happening: the protests are stirred by the golden swamp effect (a pretty standard network effect). The gathering of the protesters is a synergy from the spontaneous networking among citizens who have found a common ground and whose connections are quickly being established by exchanging email addresses and phone numbers. For further discussion and background, both Howard and I have quoted an article by Clay Spinuzzi exploring community organizing, astroturfing, and the newer phenomenon of swarming.

What I find most interesting is that for all the puffing about the Obama machine having used the internet, they are not now in a position to activate a network. What they have instead is more like an electronic mailing list where messages can go back and forth to and from the White House and that is about all. It took the anger of those who do not want more spending and healthcare to activate a multidirectional network that produces swarming. The best I suspect the White House can do is send messages asking people on their list to go to townhalls. In the process, the White House will also endure the blowback of not so friendly responses to a publicized White House email address such as

The golden swamp is about to engulf us all


Posted on 11th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Golden swamp defined


A global golden age is trickling across our threshold and will very soon pour in through our doors and windows engulfing us all. This tsunami is grand news. Beginning today what I will write here will be sketches of what the golden swamp is bringing and changing.

Since I began this blog over five years ago, I have focused on what the golden swamp means for education. The time has come to broaden the scope because much, much more is about to change. The education aspect, which is huge, will continue to be a theme.

In the golden swamp, everyone on earth will have access to everything that is known. What is known becomes a freely exercised civil liberty in which we all learn from the same page. Literacy will be for all practical purposes universal. The political, economic, creative, social, and other aspects of the golden age of the virtual swamp  will be new and exciting, and we will look at their vanguards here.

So what is the golden swamp? Although it does not exist physically — only virtually — the golden swamp is very real. It is not yet half a century old. It will be shared by everyone on earth. The golden swamp is the virtual ecology that emerges in the open internet. The laws there are network effects. The individual is empowered; the tyrant is enfeebled.

Welcome to the new sketches from the golden swamp. To understand the real and brighter future than the mainstream muck, this is a place to jump in.

Digital riches are not in little boxes


Posted on 9th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Biography, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Literature, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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In its front page article titled “As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History,” the New York Times mentions in passing the fabulous opportunity to multiply the riches of education letting students access their subjects online. The reporter, Tamar Lewin, does a thorough job of hitting all of the key points from the traditional edu power players: the schools and the publishers. We learn that when classrooms go digital state standards are mapped and textbooks are online instead of printed. The school/publisher mindset is to serve up subjects in little boxes: standards, textbook chapters, curricula, etc. So, the challenge for the usual edu suspects has been to keep the stuff students use in those boxes while somehow making the tools youngsters use to access them digital.

The misfit here is that online knowledge resources are networks. When you put a piece of a network in a box, what you can learn from it shrivels. It is clipped away from its cognitive connections. We are left with kids who are connected on Facebook to dozens of friends and features — and for their “digital” study of a subject they are served up a little virtual box with a bit to learn in it that fits the standard of their grade and semester. Online networks of ideas are like critical thinking: they are in context and connect to related ideas. Here are a couple of samples; textbooks these are not; boxes they are not. They are networks:
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Trial of Zacarias Moussaoi
The Walt Whitman Archive

Old style school research lives on


Posted on 3rd August 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

classroomThere has not been a post on for a few days because I have been in the Colorado Rocky Mountains visiting family. On the way back from Denver to New York City, I got an earful from a sixteen-year-old sitting next to me on how she does research at her small town public high school. It is a great school, she told me, in a town prosperous from upscale skiers who spend big money there every winter.

She told me the school policy is not to allow Wikipedia as a reference because, as she put it, “anybody can contribute to it.” Instead, she explained, the school provides students with databases. Twice she volunteered that the databases were “very expensive.” I asked her for the name of some of them, and she said Grolier (which I later looked up to find it is owned by Scholastic). I asked her if they also had Britannica at her school, and she said yes. She said that sometimes she went into the open Internet to look up something, but the teachers expected that  she would just use the databases provided by the school.

I can’t help envisioning a small town in the high Rockies a hundred years ago. Gold mining would make the place prosperous, as skiing does today. The town would have a one one-room school with a small library that included sets of Grolier Society collections and the Encyclopedia Britannica. How can it be possible that the very bright and eager student sitting next to me in a jetliner at 36,000 feet can be directed to the same  limited, siloed resources as her great-grandparents! I used them in the 1950s too, and they were great then. But these are different times.

Before we took off, my seatmate spent her time texting into the global Net; she is very connected, but not to the knowledge resources of her time. Interestingly, she did not respect the databases — yet bragged that at her school did all their work “digitally.”