All posts by William Doane

Digital Voice Recorders

Digital voice recorders can be a handy tool for dictation or recording research interviews. Here are some of the things I consider when looking for a recorder.

Connectivity Make sure the recorder you choose has a USB port or (even better) a built-in plug. Some recorders do not allow you to transfer your recordings to your computer.
File format The default recording file format should be something that is easily playable on your computer’s already installed software, such as Quicktime, iTunes, or Windows Media Player. WAV and MP3 work well, but many recorders use WMA, a windows format that requires additional software on the Mac to playback.
Microphones You generally want dual (or quad) built-in MICs for stereo recording— invaluable in interview sessions. You can play your recordings with headphones and perceive directionality. Not all recorders record in stereo. Also, an external MIC jack, in case you ever want to use an external microphone (a lapel clipped mic or shotgun mic, e.g.)
Placement A tripod mount screw is handy for setting up your recorder for standalone operation.

Two models I’m fond of:

Zoom H2
Olympus WS-600s

Know Your Libraries and Librarians

One of the first lessons any successful graduate student (and that should read “undergraduate student”) learns is to introduce themselves to the reference librarian who is responsible for their favorite subject areas. They can serve as guides to the existing collection, alert you to new acquisitions, and help you to acquire books that you may be interested in reading.

Know the LOC system, know which sections interest you, and know who is responsible for maintaining those sections at your institutions. You’ll make a librarian’s day when you introduce yourself as being “particularly interested in the QAs” or any other category.

For me, I always visit these sections, at least:

  • K7555 – Copyright
  • LB – Theory and practice of education
  • Q – Cybernetics/Information Theory
  • QA – Computers/Programming Languages
  • TK – Electronics/Computer Engineering

History of the LOC system:

The categories:

CS4302.01 Advanced Computing Projects

Location: Bennington College
Term(s): Spring 2012
Class size: 4

In this course, we will apply computing methods in order to develop solutions to real world problems. We will focus on problems that require computing in order to create, collect, process, or visualize data and that offer opportunities to hone our coding and software development skills. Students are invited to bring their project ideas or existing projects in need of development into the class.

Prerequisite: Permission of Instructor
Credits: 2
Time: F 2:10 – 6:00 pm
(This class meets during the first seven weeks of the term)

CS2106.01 Understanding Alan Turing

Location: Bennington College
Term(s): Spring 2012
Class size: 13

Alan Turing is a central figure in the history and theory of computing. Turing gave the first precise definition of algorithms and computability and a guideline for understanding artificial intelligence: the Turing Test. Turing played a role in the cracking of German military encryption during World War II and in the post-war development of the first digital computers. Turing lost his security clearance and was largely forgotten for the last half of the 20th century because he was homosexual. We will explore the man, his ideas, and his lasting contributions to modern computing.

Prerequisite: None
Credits: 2
Time: T/F 2:10 – 4:00 pm
(This class meets during the second seven weeks of the term)

CS2113.01 The Nature of Information

Location: Bennington College
Term(s): Spring 2012
Class size: 16

What is information? How do you measure it? Is information perishable? Is it scarce? Understanding what information is and how (and whether) it can be created, shared, manipulated, or destroyed is increasingly critical in understanding science, public policy, and civic engagement. This course will explore how our understanding of information has changed over the past 100 years and how that understanding changes how we behave individually and collectively.

Prerequisite: None
Credits: 4
Time: T/Th 10:10 – 12:00 noon

CS4120.01 Contributing to Free & Open Source Software

Location: Bennington College
Term(s): Spring 2012
Class size: 9

Most of us use free/open source software (the Web, Open Office, R, Linux) or services that rely upon FOSS (Yahoo!, Facebook, Google). In this course we will explore how these software projects are managed, the community of developers working to improve these projects, and the tools and languages they use. We will learn how to read, understand, and contribute to these projects.

Prerequisite: Permission of Instructor
Credits: 4
Time: W 2:00 – 6:00 pm

The Law of Unintended Patterns

For any matched pair of non-trivial examples
there exists (n == 1) pattern that the creator of the examples intended to highlight
but there also exist (1 < n <= infinity) unintended patterns that students will find.

It’s difficult to live-code programming examples… the conventions we use by habit often invite students to find the unintended patterns.

As an instructor, how do I get students to see the single pattern in which I’m interested, rather than the possibly infinite patterns that exist? Or, is that even the best goal? Should I, instead, be encouraging students to look beyond the first pattern they detect in order for them to appreciate the inherent complexity of interpretation?

Designing Computing Spaces for Collaboration

Classrooms are, at their best, learning communities. Unfortunately, with the rise of the PERSONAL computer (PC), computing classrooms have evolved to meet the needs of the computer, rather than the learner. In so doing, often both the needs of the computer and the learner go unmet. Consider the all too typical situation of a room that has been retrofitted to provide dozens of electrical outlets and network connections, but with no improvements in the air conditioning. It seems to have escaped the attention of the room’s designers that computers, even at idle, generate many BTUs of heat… as do students! The body heat from 15-20 students in a room is considerable.

I stress the personal aspect of personal computer here not because I think you don’t know what I mean by a PC. Rather, it’s because that individual context, the idea that the computer is meant for individual, personal use is important in a learning environment. PCs are designed with the individual in mind. Even when the idea of having multiple users was adopted in consumer PC operating systems, the idea was still that one user would be logged in at a time, working alone. In the more advanced operating systems, you can switch between the individual user contexts.

What you can’t do easily with a personal computer is collaborate, and that’s a problem for educational uses of computers both in terms of the operating system design and the design of computing classrooms.

Ideally, computing classrooms would include

  • room configurations that support collaboration
    • movable tables to support small groups, seminars, and lectures
    • ready access to power outlets, both on the walls and in the floor
    • wired network access for a portion of the users, since not all devices support wireless
    • sufficient wifi coverage to support a full class, all downloading needed software at the same time, since not all devices support wired connections (e.g., iPhones, iPads, Macbook Air, other ultrabook format computers)
    • a high-resolution projector, so that applications that use significant screen real estate can be projected: Photoshop, Blender, Xcode, other programming integrated development environments.
  • network storage that supports collaboration (where will students and ad-hoc groups share files?)
  • a storage strategy that supports collaboration (how to handle collisions among students saving?)
  • Power outlets that are not sunk into tables, allow transformer bricks (e.g., the Apple iPad or MacBook’s power supply without the extension cable) to be plugged in, and are spaced far enough apart that multiple bricks can be plugged in.
  • Additional power support for direct USB charging of devices.
  • software that supports collaboration
    • MoonEdit,
    • SubEthaEdit,
    • Google Docs,
    • Wikis,
    • GIT,
    • etc.

Cult of Ignorance ~ Isaac Asimov

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

~ Isaac Asimov, column in Newsweek (21 January 1980)

NB: Asimov, despite his vision, was by his own account and that of his contemporaries a habitual and well known sexual assailant, groping and imposing himself upon others without their consent. See

I note this here, rather than removing this entry, because you’ll eventually come across Isaac Asimov, quotations from him, or tributes to him. 99% of those will knowingly or unknowingly gloss over his flaws while promoting his contributions to science, writing, and culture. I think you should know the whole story.

"Will this be on the test?"

Students reasonably need to understand what is expected of them in a course. Educators need to make clear what is acceptable and unacceptable student engagement with a course. The syllabus is the natural place for this to happen, as long as both students and educators recognize it for what it is.

Students shouldn’t approach the syllabus as the maximum they’ll do… education is about expanding your horizon! The syllabus is the absolute minimum you should expect to do; the engaged and interested student will use it as a lower bound, not an upper bound.

Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

— Steven Paul Jobs

“Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.” ~ William Faulkner

Education researchers have shown that the most powerful way we learn is by trying to articulate what we know, believe, and feel (Connally, 1989). The creative process of transforming what is inside our heads into a form that can be shared with others is difficult but absolutely necessary for meaningful learning to take place. How many times have you passively listened to someone (ME!) talking about a topic thinking to yourself how boring it was or how obvious or how random, but when you later tried to explain it to someone, you found it nearly impossible to do so?
Continue reading “Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.” ~ William Faulkner

Dependent Sample Assessment Plots Using granovaGG and R

9/4/2011 Update: granovaGG is now available directly from CRAN.

Just over one year ago, I wrote about creating Dependent Sample Assessment Plots (DSAP) Using granova and R. Since then, Brian Danielak has been developing a new, ggplot2-based version of granova named granovaGG, which is almost ready for release on CRAN. This article updates my earlier granova-based version, but leaves much of the article text unchanged.
Continue reading Dependent Sample Assessment Plots Using granovaGG and R